At the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, administrators, student groups, and community leaders are working together to provide meals for students in a pilot program that brings Fort Smith’s Sack Lunch Program to campus.
After reading a comprehensive study documenting the wave of food insecurity on college campuses across the nation, Jean Kolljeski, co-director of the St. John’s Episcopal Church Sack Lunch Program, reached out to UAFS Dean of Students Dave Stevens to see if Lions might benefit from the sack lunch service.
“I think it’s a great addition to our campus,” said Stevens, who also oversaw the launch of the university’s first food pantry this fall. “Students can’t focus on their academics if they’re hungry. We know students need this. So focusing on meeting the needs of our students is just the right thing to do.”
Tuesday and Thursday mornings after 10 a.m., students can drop by a refrigerator in the Student Welcome Center in the campus center building or the lobby of the Math Science building to pick up a grab-and-go lunch. There are no questions asked, and each day 56 lunches will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Each sack will contain peanut butter and jelly or meat and cheese sandwiches, a juice box, and a snack cake. Bowls of fruit and will be assembled next to the refrigerators, with students welcome to grab bananas, apples, or oranges to take as well.
After talking to Kolljeski, Stevens was excited to be able to help students balance the heavy loads of school, work, and meeting their nutritional needs, but also much more aware of the staggering statistics of need in our region.
“I always want to have new data and statistics together before I give a talk,” Kolljeski explained. “I was watching the world series and doing this research, and I came upon this whole site about food insecurity on college campuses.” When she downloaded the 50-page study, she was shocked to read that as many as 38-percent of college-aged students are relatively food insecure.
“Arkansas is the second in the nation in food insecurity,” Kolljeski continued. “It’s a terrible thing, so when I talked to Dave, and he told me about the students who come to his office and tell him about worrying about choosing between food and books, I knew we could help. … We started sending lunches to UAFS, and it’s gone off like clockwork. It’s been amazing.”
Dawn Hawkins, a local school teacher and volunteer with the Sack Lunch Program immediately jumped on board to help with the UAFS initiative. “She was instrumental in helping us get started,” said Stevens. Other community members have also volunteered with lunch preparation and transportation.
The Sack Lunch Program in Fort Smith was founded in 1986 at St. John’s Episcopal Church. Since that time, it has expanded to include several dozen churches and civic organizations that financially support the program or send volunteers to assist with its mission. Hundreds of volunteers help keep the Sack Lunch Program moving each year, hailing from across the state.
The Sack Lunch Program has served 509,809 lunches over the past decade, with 38,697 meals served just last year.
“The thought that so many people are unable to get a good meal every day breaks my heart,” said Stevens. So that’s why we do it.”
Twice a week, volunteers from the UAFS Lionheart organization help pack lunches at the Sack Lunch Program kitchen on North F Street in Fort Smith, then Barry Kincannon, a retired local attorney, then helps transport the lunches from the Sack Lunch Program location at 317 North F St., to UAFS.
Students, faculty, and staff who would like to help pack lunches can contact Katie Cochran at Kathryn.Cochran@uafs.edu