A half-million meals

Mission | November 19, 2015

The energy is contagious.

Hundreds of Quad City teenagers rally each fall to collect as many green beans, corn, flour, macaroni & cheese, and countless other nonperishable food items. It’s called the Student Hunger Drive, and it helps stock the shelves at the River Bend Foodbank.

The kids create crazy competitions, go door-to-door, hold rallies, stand outside of stores, and clear their pantries at home.

How much food did they collect this year? More than 650,000 pounds – that’s nearly 550,000 meals for people experiencing hunger in the Quad City region.

“We’re giving these students a chance to be leaders and go out into the community and organize charitable giving and create a love for that,” said Liz Treiber, a St. Paul person who was named executive director of the Student Hunger Drive earlier this year. The drive was founded in 1986.

On loading day, trucks and buses and cars descend upon the foodbank’s 60,000-square-foot warehouse in Davenport. Schools win prizes based on size of the school and pounds collected per student.

The hunger drive is a vital source of food for the foodbank, said Mike Miller, executive director of River Bend. The organization serves food pantries, senior programs, school initiatives, daycares for kids experiencing poverty, homeless and domestic violence shelters, and other efforts in a 22-county region.

One of the initiatives served is the Madison Marketplace, a partnership with St. Paul and Madison Elementary School.

However, the amount of meals that the foodbank provides is on the rise. Last year, the foodbank was responsible for 7.3 million meals in the region. This year, the organization hit that number of meals served at the beginning of October.

“In our 22 counties, 131,900 people are food insecure. That is one in eight people, one in five kids,” he said.

The foodbank is embarking upon a vision to expand its capacity. For example, using the Madison Marketplace as an example, foodbank leaders would like to see a pantry in every school where there is a need.

Most importantly, he noted, hunger is a year-round problem – not just at the holidays.

Both Mike and Liz believe in the power of the Student Hunger Drive to build leaders who are passionate about issues of poverty and hunger.

Plus, the kids are just really fun to watch.

“They are amazing,” Liz said. “The way they can get themselves motivated, to brainstorm and come up with some creative ideas. It makes me feel like a kid again.”

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