Giving back: UHV students volunteer at food bank
Neatly lined up in two rows across from each other, University of Houston-Victoria student Navya Verma and her peers worked diligently in an assembly-lined fashion to get donated goods into their respective boxes at the Food Bank of the Golden Crescent in Victoria.
That Thursday concluded the final event in the university’s activities to bring attention to National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week. Typically observed the week before Thanksgiving, the initiative serves to reflect on and bring awareness to the problems of hunger and homelessness in the community. Various groups across the U.S., including charities and nonprofit organizations, spent the week providing services, education and advocating for those in need.
For Verma, who is a sophomore biology major with aspirations to become a physician, caring for others and making a difference in their lives has led her to the food bank to serve, she said.
“As an international student from India, I have seen the conditions back in my home country,” Verma said. “I feel so privileged to be here, and I want to use every opportunity I can to help out people as much as I possibly can.”
For the first hour at the food bank, Verma, along with seven other students, worked to sort through and organize the various dry goods, snacks and canned foods into cardboard boxes before they were sent off to be distributed within the 11 counties surrounding Victoria.
“It definitely brings awareness to our students by giving them the opportunity to give back not only to the community but to those in need,” said Dominic Flores, UHV Student Life coordinator. “This has been enlightening to our students, and I hope they walk away with a sense of pride knowing they gave back.”
From Nov. 13-16, UHV Student Life has held various events to give students a chance to volunteer, learn and bring awareness to the initiative.
The office kicked off Monday with a canned food drive to benefit JP’s Market, a free food pantry available to all UHV students. The donation sites included: the Center for Student Involvement inside University Commons, the Welcome Center at University Center, Office of the Provost and the Jaguar Hall Lobby inside Jaguar Hall. The drive will extend until Dec. 1.
On Wednesday, Blessing Bags were made at the University Commons Lobby, for those experiencing homelessness. All socks donated on campus that week will be contributed to the bags.
“People are always hungry. There’s always going to be a need for volunteers in any capacity,” said Robin Cadle, Food Bank of the Golden Crescent president and CEO. “Whether it’s Billy T. Cattan, whether it’s the food bank or VCAM, we are always looking for those willing to offer their time, their talents and their treasures.”
Cadle has been at the food bank since 2013 and holds three master’s degrees from UHV. For Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week, business has been the usual at the food bank, Cadle said. The Food Bank of the Golden Crescent has been continuously supporting member agencies and mobilizing distributions to Victoria and the surrounding 11 counties.
Currently, the food bank has seen an influx of food demand, with approximately seven million pounds of food distributed this year to those in need, Cadle said. A decade ago, the food bank was distributing just under three million pounds of food. When Hurricane Harvey hit the Crossroads, the number rose to 5.4 million pounds, and the greatest increase was seen with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic with nine million pounds.
The food bank serves as a distribution warehouse for many food pantries and soup kitchens in the area, such as Christ’s Kitchen here in Victoria, Cadle said. There are nearly 100 different member agencies, such as food pantries and soup kitchens within the 11 counties. In addition to assisting those organizations, the food bank operates 11 mobile distributions each month which they drive trucks of food to various locations to help others.
“I think it’s critical that young students get involved at an early age; UHV has always provided us with great volunteers with their students,” Cadle said. “As many of our food pantries now are run by the older generation, we need someone who’s going to be willing to step in and take that position, and our university students are priming themselves to take over and help.”
The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 50 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.