BUIES CREEK - Ryan Jackson is from nearby Dunn, but he didn’t know much about the hunger situation in Harnett County when he began Campbell University as a freshman in August.
Now, he can tell you that according to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, nearly three-quarters of the residents in his home county qualify for the federal food-stamp program.
“It’s hard to believe how many people in our area are going hungry,” said Jackson, a sports management major. “I didn’t really know that before this class.”
“This class” is the Campbell University Freshman Seminar, or CUFS 100. In it, Jackson and 299 other freshmen are not only learning about food insecurity and hunger, they’re doing something about it.
Each of the 20 sections of CUFS 100 has been tasked with helping carry out one of four major service activities that ties back to food insecurity and hunger: volunteering at the Harnett County Food Pantry; working in Campbell’s Mustard Seed Community Garden, which provides fresh food to the pantry; writings letters to state legislators to advocate for food-related issues; and organizing a campus-wide food drive to provide canned goods for the county's pantry that runs through Nov. 15.
More than half of the 300 CUFS students will spend some time in Campbell’s community garden—which supplies fresh vegetables such as lettuce, cabbage and collards to the Harnett County Food Pantry—or work on tasks related to the pantry, including power-washing the building, distributing food and packing bags.
On a recent Friday, about 14 students in one of the CUFS’ sections spent the morning in the community garden pulling weeds, tilling, fertilizing and planting cabbage. The next morning, on a Saturday, another group of students gleaned sweet potatoes on a local farm.
Among the students helping Friday was Raven Munoz, a pre-pharmacy major from Fayetteville. She has spent years helping maintain and harvest her mother’s garden, but tilling and planting in Campbell’s community garden feels different, she said.
“You’re not doing this for yourself; you’re doing it for other people. That’s meaningful,” Munoz said. “I’ve never seen a school before have something like a community garden that provides for and directly serves its own community on an ongoing basis. It’s these types of things and working together that can solve problems.”
Having students work together to address a pressing need in the local community was a main reason why CUFS 100 restructured its format this year, said Jennifer Latino, director of Campbell’s First-Year Experience program, which organizes CUFS 100.
In the inaugural CUFS 100 course last year, to satisfy a service-learning component, each instructor for each section decided which service activity the students would participate in independent of each other. After CUFS 100 ended last year, instructors and administrators formed a committee to evaluate the seminar. A suggestion: have the service-learning components of each CUFS section connected to a common theme.
Latino’s office partnered with the university’s Campus Ministry office to choose food insecurity and hunger as the common theme. Why? It was about this time last year that word began to spread that the Harnett County Food Pantry was going to close because it had run out of food. When the news hit Buies Creek, the Campus Ministry office organized an awareness campaign and food drive. The campus community responded, donating more than enough food to restock the panty’s shelves.
“This year, we wanted to get out front of it and do what we could do to put feet on the ground and help,” said Faithe Beam, Campbell’s campus minister. “I hope from their experiences in CUFS students will learn that wherever they find themselves—today and after they’ve graduated—that they can use whatever skills they have to be part of making a difference in the community.”
In addition to coordinating the students’ service projects, Latino’s and Beame’s offices developed packets of information and resources for the CUFS instructors, who can adapt the materials to fit their sections and introduce their students to food insecurity and hunger issues in Harnett County, North Carolina and the U.S.
In the section freshman Caiah Rawlings is taking, for example, she and her classmates watched the Food Network documentary “Hunger Hits Home.”
“That was powerful,” the psychology major from Cary said. “One of the families featured in the documentary was a family of five, just like my family; and the documentary featured individuals who were working hard but still going hungry. It hit me that even if you do everything right, you can fall on hard times. It could have happened to my family. It made me humble and grateful that I’ve never gone without food.
“And yet it seems so simple the things we can do to help others, whether working in a garden, distributing food or donating to a canned food drive,” she added. “It’s a lesson I’ll carry with me long after this class ends.”
How you can help
Campus Ministry and students taking CUFS 100 are holding a food drive between now and Nov. 15. Place canned goods in bins marked “food drive” at locations around campus, including in all academic buildings, residence halls, the fitness center, Carter Gym and the student centers. All food will be delivered to the Harnett County Food Pantry.
If you’d like to help maintain and harvest the university’s community garden, email Nate Johnson at [email protected]. Johnson is the volunteer coordinator of the garden, which supplies fresh vegetables to the pantry.
Photo: Students in a CUFS 100 section spent a recent Friday working in Campbell University's Mustard Seed Community Garden. Article by Cherry Crayton, Campbell's Digital Content Coordinator