AUBURN, Ala. – Kullen Hlawek knew the best way to get her fellow Auburn student-athletes to become invested in a food drive: make it a competition.
“We had donations from every single sport,” said Hlawek, a gymnast who serves as president of Auburn’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. “If there’s one thing we can do, we can compete. It got pretty heated. Pretty intense. The buy-in from all of the sports was fantastic.”
Motivated by a desire to help fellow students in need, and to earn bragging rights among their peers, Auburn student-athletes purchased and donated three truckloads of food during a two-week span in the fall semester.
“We were just really happy to be able to help them,” Hlawek said. “To be able to help was a really great opportunity for us.”
Once student-athletes learned that some of their fellow students struggle with food insecurity, Hlawek says they were eager to assist. “We have athletes coming to SAAC now asking, ‘Can we do more?’
SAAC president Kullen Hlawek speaks to student-athletes at the Tiger Tailgate in August.
“People have really jumped all in on both the food pantry and any other community service that we can do to help those who aren’t as fortunate as we are,” she said.
The competition awarded points based on preferences from the students who use the food pantry: 5 points for rice and pasta, 3 for peanut butter, 1 for a 12-pack of ramen noodles.
Men’s swimming and diving won the event, earning nearly twice as many points as the second-place team.
“They really jumped on board and brought in almost a truckload of food,” Hlawek said.
Located in the Student Center, the food pantry began serving students four years ago. Between 70-80 students have received food there this semester, an average of six to 10 students per week.
Katherine Hettinger, who runs the student food pantry, says Hlawek and the SAAC members were enthused and effective.
“We were blown away by the amount of food they raised for us,” Hettinger said. “It wasn’t like they put bins outside one of their athletic events and said, ‘Hey, everybody who comes to the game, donate food.’ They did this just amongst themselves.”
Auburn student-athletes donated enough food to supply the pantry, which provides food for Auburn University students who identify as food insecure, well into the spring semester, says Hettinger.
“It just speaks to their level of service, philanthropy and just giving back,” Hettinger said. “They made it a priority. It was really amazing.
“I see every day how that impacts our students who are food insecure. It really makes a difference for students who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. To have that level of support, that other people at Auburn want them to be successful, is awesome.”