Sam Olson was running through the highlights of the second annual Kids Fighting Hunger community service project.
“We’ve almost doubled what we did last year, in terms of money, food (packed) and volunteers,” Olson said. “It was a very, very big success.”
He stopped and smiled.
“They’re definitely leaving some big shoes for us to fill,” said Olson, a junior from Sioux Falls, S.D.
Indeed they are. About 320 volunteers – mostly student-athletes from Saint John’s University representing nearly 20 percent of the campus population – packed almost 82,400 meals during the event Sunday, March 19, at Guild Hall.
The event was organized by members of the Saint John’s golf team, led by seniors Mack Farley and Morgan Rask and Olson, along with the SJU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). Each varsity sport at SJU has two representatives on SAAC, so each sport was heavily involved with the project.
At the end of the event, Farley and Rask turned the reins over to Olson and his teammates.
“The guys have just been great,” said Cathy Wogen, executive director of St. Cloud Kids Fighting Hunger. “My board has said that this is the easiest packaging event that we do, because the guys are so vested.
“I think a lot of (being vested) comes from leadership, and really developing and understanding what service work means and what they can expect to see from their service work,” Wogen said.
Like last year’s event, SJU varsity athletic teams were asked to donate both their time (there were two packaging shifts) and financially ($10 per person). The Saint John’s Student Senate also made a significant contribution.
Farley said asking students to contribute both their time and money makes sense. “They have some skin in the game, and they really care what’s going on,” he said.
That money was augmented by donations from area civic groups, including the Granite City Rotary Club, Optimist Club, Kiwanis Club and the Knights of Columbus, and from donations made at SJU sporting events this fall and winter. In all, over $12,300 was collected, which was then used to purchase the supplies.
“They know how that money is being used. It’s really energized them,” Wogen said.
Up to 17 packaging tables were used during the two sessions. Each table had nine or 10 volunteers, packaging the ingredients – white rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables and a mineral powder that provides 21 minerals and vitamins.
Most of the meals will be shipped to Somalia. Ten boxes will also go to local food shelves in Avon and St. Joseph.
“We thought we did a pretty good job last year by raising $6,500 and packing 45,000 meals,” Olson said. “But we thought we could do more. We knew we could get more volunteers, and we knew if we raised the money we could pack more meals.”
“The student-athletes were frustrated last year because they felt they could do more,” SJU athletic director and golf coach Bob Alpers said. “What limited them was the money. So, we started earlier, taking donations nickel by nickel at home football, basketball and hockey games.”
“I think this resonates so well because of our Benedictine background here on campus,” said Olson, adding that Lent provides a perfect time to conduct a service project.
“Like Father Ian (Dommer, OSB, director of Campus Ministry) said in his blessing, we’re supposed to give our time, talent and treasure,” Olson said. “What better way for college kids to get involved was to wake up, roll out of bed and walk the 100 or so feet to Guild Hall to pack the meals for an hour?
“I think that’s the biggest thing that resonates. It’s easy to do and it’s fun, but at the same time it’s so impactful.”
Rask said he will miss the event when he graduates this spring.
“It’s a lot of work, but I’ll definitely miss it,” Rask said. “It makes you feel good at the end of the day doing this.
“We’ve got good guys who are going to take the reins and keep this going,” Rask said.
“We started from scratch,” Farley said, “and we’re seeing the benefits now.”