By Karen Petit
When the problem of food insecurity among college students was discussed with the 2020 Class of Leadership Greenwood, members rallied to support the Bear Necessities Food Pantry at Lander University.
The first Music for Meals fundraiser, held in October 2021, was so successful that alumni of the Leadership Greenwood program planned a second event. With music by the Emerald Empire Band and a buffet of oysters and barbecue, Music for Meals returned with new corporate sponsors and goals for the future.
Tara Smith, one of the original organizers, said that the information on college food insecurity presented by Dr. Boyd Yarbrough, Lander’s vice president for Student Affairs, more than two years ago was startling to her and her friends in Leadership Greenwood.
“The data showing that many college students regularly go hungry was unknown to many of us. We weren’t aware that it was not only a problem locally, but nationally as well. We felt that this was a way that we could make a difference in our community,” Smith said.
The group raised more than $10,000 at the first fundraiser. “After that success, we knew we wanted to continue this effort,” Smith said. “We hope to keep it going.”
Aimee Clark, community manager of Healthy Learners, said many people are aware of food insecurity among children. They don’t often realize this extends to college students, too.
“A lot of people associate scholarships with tuition and room and board,” she said. “Just because a scholarship may cover a student’s tuition or a portion of their tuition doesn’t mean that they will be able to afford food and eat healthy food. This event is helping us raise awareness of food insecurity among young people of all ages.”
Dennis Perry, a junior majoring in music performance at Lander, was among the student musicians who took the stage before the Emerald Empire Band entertained the crowd at the Lander University Equestrian Center. Perry, of Barnwell, said he is among the students benefitting from the Food Pantry’s services.
“I have been to the Food Pantry, and it helps tremendously with my meals,” he said. “Being here to perform and get the word out about the Food Pantry means a lot to me.”
A former Mr. Lander, Perry said the event was “a tremendous opportunity for me. I was always doubtful about my abilities, but Lander has given me the opportunities to develop my talent as a singer. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Yarbrough said Music for Meals is the primary fundraiser for the Bear Necessities Food Pantry. “To have this level of support from our community means that we can continue to grow and expand our program of support for students.”
An added feature this year was a drawing for a collection of 27 bottles of wine. The winner was Robin Fallon, of Woodruff, whose daughter, Marielle Fallon, is a Lander senior majoring in biology. “Lander has given Marielle amazing opportunities. She has had such positive experiences here.”
Yarbrough said Lander receives a great deal of feedback from students, parents and the community, all appreciative of the work being done at the Food Pantry. “This is a great example of identifying a problem and addressing it on the local level. Other colleges have reached out to us to learn more about how we started and experienced such success.”
Now in its third academic year of operation, the Bear Necessities Food Pantry has grown in service and scope each year. “We have served more students each year, and we have increased our offerings to include professional clothing for students,” Yarbrough said.
In a perfect world, the University wouldn’t need this service. “The long-range goal is to no longer be necessary because no Lander students would suffer from food insecurity. Until we accomplish that goal, I expect we will continue to serve more students and offer a wider array of services and support,” he said. “Our next area of focus is to address housing insecurities.”