School of Communication’s assistant to the dean, Susan Napoleon, worried about children’s access to food as summer draws near. So, she decided to set up a food drive to help.
For some children, summer is a break from the work and stress of school. But Susan Napoleon, assistant to the dean in the School of Communications, wondered how summer break and virtual learning would impact students who rely on in-person learning for food.
So, during a meeting with other School of Communication staff, Napoleon suggested a way to help out the pantries that support those in need of food.
“Food pantries all across the nation are really struggling with donations and there’s nothing easier than running a food drive,” Napoleon said. “I mean, really, I grabbed boxes and buckets and created some flyers and got those set in a couple of places.”
Webster University’s School of Communications is hosting a food drive. Napoleon said the drive will last three weeks and donations will go to Operation Food Search (OFS).
Jocelyn Fundoukos, the communications manager at OFS, explained OFS has a three-pillar strategy for combating hunger. The three pillars include pushing for policy changes, educating people on how to create budget-friendly, nutritious meals and meeting the immediate food needs of the community.
Food drives play an important role in enabling OFS to provide for people’s current food needs, according to Fundoukos. She said this is especially true during COVID-19, as some grocery stores’ supply chains and regular donations have been impacted.
“We’re really grateful to people who make this effort to put these food drives together because you’re basically collecting food from all these sources, and taking care of the logistics of that, and getting it to us and then we can get it out all over Missouri and Illinois,” Fundoukos said. “So, it’s kind of amazing what can happen with people working together.”
Restricted access to buildings made placing food donation boxes around campus difficult, according to Napoleon. She said any faculty or staff in other buildings on campus can email her if they collect food for the drive. Napoleon said she and work-study students will then go and pick up donations.
Napoleon said nonperishable food, including canned vegetables, boxed food and canned soup, are the types of items people should consider bringing in for donation.
Fundoukos said donors should also consider the nutritional value of what they are donating. She suggested items like canned soups, beans or peanut butter instead of ramen noodles.
“There is a real need for those shelf, staple food items. People donating a can of something does a very direct service to somebody who needs that food,” Fundoukos said. “They’re literally getting it to that person.”
Whether it is donating financially to operations like OFS or her experience volunteering at a St. Charles food pantry, Napoleon has experience with service. Napoleon feels like she has a personal perspective on the importance of giving as a single mother who raised her children on one income.
Napoleon said she learned anyone could face a situation where accessing food is difficult after hearing people’s personal stories while volunteering. She feels like everyone should have things like housing, food and water.
“I mean, those are human rights and it’s heartbreaking when you know it’s not. So, here’s the thing, none of us needed to go out and save the whole world … We start right here and I figure anything I do made a difference in some way, and I don’t have to measure exactly how much that was,” Napoleon said. “That’s why I don’t have really specific goals and expectations for this particular food drive. Whatever we have is something they didn’t have until we showed up with it.”
Fundoukos said OFS has had to buy more food due to a decrease in food donations, but the organization is still seeing financial contributions. OFS saw more donations than ever before during last year’s food drive – roughly $1 million in food and financial contributions, according to Fundoukos.
OFS has come up with creative ways for the community to continue hosting food drives during COVID-19, including food drive parades, according to Fundoukos. She said other people put a donation bin on their porches and have given “inspiring” financial donations.
“I remember somebody sent us a donation for $180 and they were like, ‘I’m a student and I’ve been off school for 180 days. And I’ve had food every one of those days and I know other people haven’t,’” Fundoukos said.
Fundoukos said OFS can use even smaller donations like $1 to access $10 worth of food or services through OFS’ partnerships. Napoleon said people can also make donations on Give STL Day which is on May 6.
Napoleon understands everyone comes from different experiences and has unique interests. Despite this, she said everyone has the kindness to give – whether giving takes the form of food, money or time.
“I challenge anybody, I don’t know, help an old lady cross the street. That’ll set you on fire … when you open yourself up and you help someone or some cause, you can’t deny that sense of feeling good knowing that you did a good thing,” Napoleon said.
Napoleon hopes to make the food drive a recurring event during the fall, summer and spring. In the fall, Napoleon plans on sending the food drive’s donations to Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Webster Groves.
She said she understands that some Webster students may be struggling with access to food themselves. The Emmanuel Food Center serves as a resource to students in need, according to Napoleon.
Moving into the future, Napoleon is also hoping to bring friendly competition to the food drives. She recalled a past food drive hosted by The Galaxy Radio which collected donations for OFS. The person who donated the most items won a candle, Napoleon said.
“You wouldn’t believe how competitive everyone got for a candle. It wasn’t even a Yankee candle. It was a generic candle from Walmart,” Napoleon said with a laugh.
Whether future drives are competitive or not, Fundoukos said any donation will help someone in need.
“If you can bring in a couple cans, that’s awesome. If you could bring in a jar of peanut butter, you know, great. That goes a long way,” Fundoukos said.