A feeling of thankfulness and the spirit of giving have overflowed the campus of University of the Cumberlands (UC). As part of the annual Kentucky Harvest Southeast donation drive, Cumberlands collected 28,874 pounds of food to benefit local food pantries and putting meals on the table for families in need this holiday season.

The Kentucky Harvest Southeast partnership with Cumberlands began in 2011 and engages UC students in collecting food donations for area food banks. It is one of several campus wide service opportunities students participate in throughout the year.

Cumberlands’ primary goal this year was to collect 10 pounds of food for every staff member and student on campus – a total of 17,500 pounds of food. Instead, it gathered nearly 29,000 pounds, soundly shattering expectations. Dr. Emily Coleman, vice president for student services, said she is proud of the University’s efforts.

“Our campus community came together as one to make a significant impact on local food banks this year,” Coleman said. “Through donations from faculty, staff, students, alumni, and vendors, we have been able to surpass our goal.  We were even able to expand our support this year and donate to family resource centers and other community food drives throughout Williamsburg.”

In addition to having collection boxes placed around campus and in local stores and churches, Coleman and Tammy Smith, the administrative assistant in student services, collaborated with grocery stores in the area to use monetary donations to buy food in bulk. The duo coordinated the purchase and transportation of 16,308 pounds of food just days before the food drive’s conclusion. Smith even drove a rented U-Haul around town, collecting the purchases.

Cumberlands’ baseball and football teams, as well as student workers for the Campus Activities Board (CAB) and campus ministry office, helped unload the stocked U-Haul at First Baptist Church, which runs a food pantry for community members.

“It was really cool,” said David Groh, a senior baseball player from Temecula, California majoring in business administration, who helped unload the truck. “Everybody was having a good time, the energy was high and we all knew we were there to help a good cause. It was a fun atmosphere to be in: a bunch of friends and teams all working together.”

According to the Kentucky Association of Food Banks (KAFB), one in six Kentuckians don’t always know where their next meal will come from. Sixty-seven percent of KAFB clients are routinely forced to decide between feeding their families or paying for their housing utilities. To cope, nearly all of these families purchase inexpensive, unhealthy food, which can lead to future health issues.

“The Kentucky Harvest food drive is part of a bigger picture to see that those who are hungry are fed; nobody deserves to be hungry,” said Matt Rhymer, UC’s head football coach. “This outreach program takes the focus off of ourselves and helps us see the blessings of serving other people.”

Because Cumberlands collected so much food, it was able to serve multiple organizations throughout the community, including Cedaridge Ministries, First Baptist Church Food Pantry (which distributes food to other foodbanks throughout the county), Shiner Church of Christ Food Pantry, Corbin School of Technology, Williamsburg Independent Family Resource Center and Whitley County Family Resource Center.

This year’s food drive has become the farthest-reaching Kentucky Harvest donation drive in Cumberlands’ history. In 2016, Cumberlands raised 18,513 pounds of food for Kentucky Harvest Southeast. The University hopes to carry its momentum into next year and continue to assist families through the partnership with Kentucky Harvest Southeast.

“We have set a high bar,” said Coleman, “but I can’t wait to see how our campus community rallies next year as we continue to make an impact addressing hunger in southeast Kentucky!”

Located in Williamsburg, Kentucky, University of the Cumberlands is an institution of regional distinction offering quality undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and online degree programs. Learn more at ucumberlands.edu