’Tis the season help to feed the hungry

Rickia Smith has reached for a helping hand in the past when she needed it. The appreciation for those who offered her that help has never left her.

Campus Restaurant employees Brent Bolton, Keith Walker, Donald Myhand (center) and Dammieon Sheppard (front) load more than 3,764 pounds of food that was donated to Magic City Harvest.
Smith, a cashier at the Commons on the Green, now lives her life trying to return that favor. And she was eager to help when UAB Campus Restaurants joined SODEXO's Helping Hands Across America campaign to raise money for the local food-recovery program Magic City Harvest.

Cashiers in all UAB campus restaurants sold $5 food bags to faculty, staff and students during the month of November, and Smith led the way with 183 sold. All told, the campaign raised more than $2,000, which was used to purchase 3,764 pounds of food - enough to feed more than 1,500 families during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

"It was great to be a part of such a big project that helps the people in our communities," Smith says. "We had so many faculty and students who were willing to help. Some bought more than one bag."

The cashiers held a competition to see who could sell the most bags, but Smith says the drive was more than a contest.

"It wasn't a competition for me," Smith says. "I was more concerned with selling as many food bags as I could to help our homeless and other people in need. I've been in need before, so I know how it is."

Campus Restaurants has held canned food drives in recent years in an effort to help Magic City Harvest, but Leigh Ciarkowski, Campus Restaurants marketing manager, says their success has been limited.

That led to a change in strategy this year to selling $5 donation bags that featured samples of the food Campus Restaurants would purchase with the money raised. Campus Restaurants purchased crackers, spaghetti, canned tuna, fruits and vegetables, rice and canned soups from their vendors with the money raised.

"We wanted to try the donation bags this year to see if we could be more successful," Ciarkowski says. "We found this was a little easier because a lot of times students can't get off campus to purchase canned goods — the same for faculty and staff. People are more inclined to donate five dollars when they're purchasing a meal than trying to remember to bring canned goods to work and find the place to drop them off."

Campus Restaurants also accepted canned food donations as part of the food drive and matched the donations in canned goods.

Campus Restaurants helps Magic City Harvest throughout the year by donating its leftover items and soon-to-expire foods to the food-recovery program to help alleviate food insecurity, malnutrition and food waste in the community.

"We donate any of our prepackaged grab-and-go items that are about to go out of date," Ciarkowski says. "We also donate any produce we have leftover going into extended breaks like Thanksgiving and Christmas. It helps in terms of food waste because we're not throwing so much away, and, more important, it's going to someone who needs it."

Helping the communityBenita Baker, retail manager for Campus Restaurants, says her cashiers were ecstatic to be a part of the campaign.

"My workers are from this community, and they want to help the people of this community," Baker says. "They have a heart for helping others, and they wanted to raise enough money to at least get enough food to help Magic City Harvest through Christmas."

"So many of our cashiers really got behind the food drive, and we had a great response from our students, faculty and staff," Ciarkowski says. "Many of them told the cashiers they were glad we were taking this initiative to support our community.

"But we couldn't have done it without their support and their kindness."