The Radford University campus community joined forces with the city of Radford this week to collect more than 15,000 food items for area school children.
On Oct. 24-25, students, faculty, staff and community members donated food as part of the university’s second annual Radford Gives Back food drive. The campaign helps replenish Bobcat Backpacks, a nonprofit organization founded in 2016 by three alumnae, Daniela Brunner ’96, Jenny Riffe ’03 and Jane Fisher ’94, ’00. The program provides underserved Radford City Public Schools (RCPS) students with weekend food during the school year and the summer.
Radford Gives Back was first introduced last year during the week of President Brian O. Hemphill’s inauguration. Upon arrival to the university, President Hemphill and his wife, Dr. Marisela Rosas Hemphill, made community service and partnerships a priority. Radford Gives Back is now a proud tradition of the university.
This year, the campaign culminated on the evening of Oct. 25 when 250 volunteers gathered in the Student Recreation and Wellness Center to pack bags full of the donated items. On behalf of the student body, Clare McMurry, a senior communication major from Williamsburg, thanked volunteers for their participation and encouraged them to continue such impactful philanthropy year-round. McMurry is the vice president of the university’s chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), which helped organize Radford Gives Back.
Brunner spoke on behalf of Bobcat Backpacks, which currently serves about 110 children each week. Without the program, she explained, the last real meal a food insecure RCPS student might eat before they return to school Monday morning is at school lunchtime the previous Friday.
“The food we provide gives these marginalized children the opportunity to be successful in school because they aren’t hungry Monday morning,” Brunner said. “Our partnership with Radford University with this event is profoundly important to the success of our program. We hope to continue participating in this campus-wide food drive for many years to come.”
Brunner said that food donated during Radford Gives Back accounts for about one-third of the program’s budget. As a result of last year’s campaign – which resulted in more than 14,000 food items – the program was able to expand its outreach into the summer months. Bobcat Backpacks now feeds children throughout the entire year.
“We couldn’t do this without your support,” Brunner told volunteers. “You are making a huge impact in our small city.”
RCPS Superintendent Robert Graham said he sees first-hand the physiological difference nourishing foods can make in the attitudes and academic performance of his students. With full stomachs, they arrive at school happy, energized, focused and ready to learn, he said.
Radford University alumna Jenny Doud ’75, M.S. ‘80, who currently serves as the vice president for external affairs of Feeding America of Southwest Virginia, was the keynote speaker. She shared that more than 24,000 people in Southwest Virginia are without a consistent, nutritious food supply. One in five children are experiencing hunger, and in Radford City, approximately 400 children are food insecure.
“So today, you’re going to make a dent in that,” Doud said. “You’re going to be a part of helping alleviate hunger for those children… We really have to work together as partners to make sure that no child, no person in Southwest Virginia ever has to go home on an empty stomach.”
Following the presentation, students assembled to pack the bags and load them onto a truck to be delivered to The Presbyterian Church of Radford. There, volunteers unpacked the truck and continued the celebration.
Senior communication major Hannah Shouse, president of PRSSA and a Radford resident, was among the many volunteers inspired by Radford Gives Back.
“Being from Radford, this charity hits very close to home,” Shouse said. “I grew up in the area and love it more now than ever because of how close-knit everyone is…This organization is amazing and makes me speechless when I see how much support they are given.”
Brunner invited volunteers to the church each week to help pack additional bags. A schedule for the packing days can be found on the Bobcat Backpacks Facebook page.
— Mary Hardbarger