Every fall since 2011, University of the Cumberlands and the Williamsburg community unite and gather food to donate to local foodbanks. This year, Cumberlands is hosting their annual fall food drive October 18 – November 19. Students and community members are all welcome to drop off all donated items in the Office of Student Affairs, located on the upper level of the Boswell Campus Center on Walnut Street in Williamsburg, KY (near the center of Cumberlands’ campus).

This year, the university is revising its approach to not only donate non-perishable food but also give away hygiene items.

Dr. Emily Coleman, provost at Cumberlands, said, “We have seen a lot of success in the past few years as we’ve changed our approach to focus more on providing whole, balanced meals instead of just bringing tons of food. We always ask the food banks, ‘Is there a way we can change our approach to make this better?’ and this time it was mentioned, ‘You know, it would be neat if we could offer things like toothpaste and other hygiene items. People need those.’ So, we said, ‘Okay, we’ll add them to the list!’”

The university has donated more than 100,000 pounds of food to local foodbanks through its annual food drive in the past five years. They broke their yearly food drive record in 2020 by bringing in 30,557 pounds, almost 2,000 pounds more than the previous record of 28,874 pounds donated in 2017.

Coleman said, “The goal is always to exceed whatever amount we brought in the year prior; however, we may not exceed last year’s amount due to the higher-cost items we are requesting this year – hygiene products and kids’ foods that children can fix without assistance. But we’re okay with not exceeding last year because we will be meeting the community’s needs, which is a greater priority.”

The timing of the food drive is purposeful – with Thanksgiving and Christmas around the corner right afterward, the drive provides much-needed items for local foodbanks to use during the holiday season. With help from Cumberlands, food banks have been well-stocked for the holidays for years.

“The majority of schoolchildren in the area receive 10 meals a week from their schools,” said Coleman. “So, in addition to the celebratory feasts everyone hopes to enjoy on Thanksgiving and Christmas, many families need an extra 10 meals per child every week the kids are home from school, which some families struggle to supply. When local pantries’ shelves are full, it helps kids’ bellies stay full. That’s our main goal. That’s worth giving toward.”

The focus this year will still be on providing “plates with a purpose” – whole plates of food with one part protein, one part grain, one part dairy, and one part vegetable or fruit. To help ensure this happens (instead of tons of packages of the same few foods being donated), Cumberlands staff is designating a specific kind of food to be brought in for one week, then a different kind of food the following week, and so on. This simple shift has made a huge impact on the donations provided over the past few years.

“We used to get a lot of Ramen and peanut butter. I mean, a lot of those,” said Coleman, laughing. “This new approach has brought in way more fruits, veggies, and protein, which are more nutritious and help the food pantries give balanced meals to the people who need them most.”

University of the Cumberlands invites all campus and community members to participate in the fall food drive. Monetary donations can be made by visiting ucumberlands.edu/plates-purpose/give, and food (and hygiene) donations can be dropped off in the Office of Student Affairs on the upper level of the Boswell Campus Center on Walnut Street in Williamsburg, KY.