PARKVILLE, Mo. — A coat drive that started in November at Park University paved the way for a unique opportunity at the Parkville school on Friday, Jan. 26.
The campus held an event at the Breckon Sports Center to pack 10,000 meals in a two-hour time frame. Students, faculty, alumni and board of regents all showed up for the event that used an assembly-line design to move quickly.
“Our international students aren’t always ready for winter and we started talking about the coat drive and understanding there is just not a need for coats, but food for the kids,” said Laurie Gunderson, the wife of Park President Dr. Greg Gunderson. “A lot are coming on full scholarships but they don’t have a lot of extra money. Food security isn’t unique to Park, it is an issue on all campuses. The more we researched the more we became concerned.”
In his second year at the helm, Dr. Gunderson and his wife had a meal with every incoming freshmen at their house this year and the food insecurity — not knowing where the next meal will come from — was something they learned more about.
The Gundersons saw the issue even more so over Christmas break when they kept the dorms open for about 60 kids during the five-week hiatus of school. They raised more than $3,000 for Hy-Vee gift cards to help the students that stayed during the break.
But, the food insecurity was still there and a helping hand from regent Jim Cornelius paved the way for ‘Pack the Shack’ event that had nearly 200 volunteers show up.
“Jim is guy known for fixing things,” Dr. Gunderson said. “When he sees a problem he finds a solution. He doesn’t approach it with ‘I think we could do something.’ He came with a solution and philosophy and energy.”
Cornelius — who works for UMB Bank as president of institutional banking and investor services — and his wife, Bobbie, began a GoFundMe campaign to raise the $2,500 needed for a Pack Shack investment to package 10,000 meals. Those meals — the three options are cheesy rice and vegetables, pasta parmesan and rice and veggie casserole — provide at least 10 grams of protein per serving, 19 vitamins and minerals and had Tyson Food involved in developing the product.
In three days, the campaign nearly double the goal.
“I wasn’t really in tune on a college campus that food insecurity was an issue,” Jim Cornelius said. “When I heard that, I knew there had to be a way to help stamp out student hunger. Food insecurity is about not knowing where your next meal is coming from. I thought there has to be a way.
“Through fate or serendipity I learned of The Pack Shack and the organization. They supply the food and set up and we provide the funding and people to pack the meals.”
That set the stage for the event held on a sunny Friday afternoon and Dr. Gunderson noted that with about 400 students living on campus — about half turned out to work the event.
“It’s a Friday afternoon, the weather is nice, they don’t have class and the fact they spend their time this way is really heartening,” Dr. Gunderson said. “We talk about ‘one family’ here at Park and that is evident are feeling a responsibility to their fellow students and other people. The altruistic nature shows real value that you think outside of yourself.”
For every 1,000 bags packed, a celebration banging on a gong occurred, all the while music kept the volunteers moving. The assembly line poured the dry food into a bag, which were weighed for accuracy then vacuum sealed before being tossed to another table that did the packing.
Of the 10,000 bags packed, 3,000 stayed at the Park campus and will be available for students locally or at any of the other Park campuses across the country when the need arises.
The other 7,000 were divvied up between 12 Kansas City area organizations or schools — the Park Hill School District, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, McMurry United Methodist Church, Synergy Services, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church food pantry, St. Mary’s Outreach food pantry, Kansas City Heroes, St. Michael’s Veterans Center, St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church food pantry, Hope Center KC, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Kansas City and Kansas City’s Public Library Outreach Services.
“I think this is crazy good,” Jim Cornelius said. “There are a lot of other things they could be doing, but they are doing this and packing 10,000 meals in two hours is phenomenal. It says a lot about Park. You always hear about disengaged youth and this shows that isn’t always true. I’m pretty amazed and feel really good they want to come out and help their fellow students.”
Bobbie Cornelius added, “They are bonding and it makes them aware of what their fellow students are encountering.”
A sample study in 2016 found that 48 percent of respondents reported food insecurity in a 30-day period and 22 percent had low levels of food security that qualified them at hungry.
The Park volleyball team was among many of the athletic programs at Park to help out in the event. Platte County graduate Maren Mair took part in the event, all the while holding her daughter, Avi, who is 13-months-old.
“It is nice to help out the community and get together,” said Mair, who is nursing student. “The NAIA really encourages volunteer work and this was nice to help out.”
Graduate student Zac Jarrad was another to volunteer his time at the event, signing up for the full two-hour block. The Park Hill High School graduate has already secured two degrees at Park and is currently working on his MBA, which he will wrap up in May.
“I thought it was pretty fun. It was a way to bring everyone together, students, faculty, staff and alumni,” he said. “It is cool that Park is able to have such a meaningful impact on the local community. It shows Park is a family and we are all connected to issues like student hunger.”