Students help with Secret Meals program, aid schools

Cokie Thompson

From Lakeside Dining to Bryant Hall, and all the vending machines in between, food is readily available all over the University of Alabama campus. Freshman and anyone else with an unlimited meal plan have access to all the food they can eat at almost any time of day. For many children in Alabama, this is not the case.

Secret Meals For Hungry Children provides weekend meals for around 2,000 children across Alabama. Many of these children are on free or reduced-price lunches, and they only get food when their school provides it.

The West Alabama Food Bank started the program under the name “Backpack Buddies” and fed 18 students in Tuscaloosa. The Alabama Credit Union took over the program and renamed it to avoid confusion with school supply drives.

On Friday afternoons while students are at recess, volunteers deliver 3 1/2 pound food packs to schools, and teachers put them in the backpacks of children in the program. The packages contain two breakfasts, two lunches and two snacks for the weekend.

Michelle McClinton, a marketing assistant at Alabama Credit Union, said teachers and counselors see the impact of the organization.

“They say children feel rewarded when they get their food,” McClinton said.

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The Alabama Credit Union manages the program, but the food banks put the food packs together and send them to the schools. The Alabama Credit Union covers all promotional and advertising costs so all financial donations go directly to purchasing food.

Since the spring of 2011, a UA course has partnered with Secret Meals. Students in APR 419 public relations development, split into groups and organize and promote fundraising events for the charity.

Susan Daria, who teaches the course, said the class is an exhilarating experience.

“Secret Meals is a fantastic client,” Daria said. “At the very least, you have 20 students who are now aware that hunger isn’t a third-world problem.”

McClinton was a student in the class herself about a year ago.

“The project is a great opportunity for students to get pieces and experience,” McClinton said.

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Since the relationship began, McClinton said the students have raised more than $50,000 for the organization. Student involvement in the project helps target a key demographic in Tuscaloosa – UA students. Tuscaloosa is not home to many students, and promotion by an on-campus group helps raise awareness about the charity.

“Many students and residents in Tuscaloosa don’t realize that people around us are struggling so much — the more awareness we raise, the more we can help those in need,” said Frances Blount, a junior majoring in public relations who is working on Ales To Fight Hunger.

Black Warrior Brewing Company is donating 20 percent of profits of all beer sold to Secret Meals for the Ales To Fight Hunger event.

“We came up with the idea to host Ales to Fight Hunger at Black Warrior Brewing Company because it is a new spot in town with a lot of buzz,” said Sam Nadolski, a senior majoring in public relations. “People are excited to try it out, and our event will be the perfect time for them to finally go while supporting a good cause.”

Although Black Warrior Brewing Company is donating a portion of its proceeds, event organizers encourage attendees to donate throughout the night.

“It only costs $120 to feed a child on the Secret Meals program for an entire year, so we are hoping to raise enough money to sponsor several children,” Blount said.

Another group has organized a date auction at Rounders called All In For Secret Meals, which will feature live music and a silent auction.

Kelsey Crumpton, a senior majoring in public relations working with the All In For Secret Meals event, said the process has been about more than raising money for the charity.

“We’re just trying to get the word out because not a lot of people realize that poverty in Alabama is so bad, and that 20 percent of children live under the poverty level, especially in West Alabama and the Tuscaloosa area,” Crumpton said.

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