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Ole Miss invites community to help reach milestone

By Edwin Smith

University of Mississippi

Seven years ago, University of Mississippi student Mary Katherine Perry Phillips helped launch a campus Feed the Hunger campaign to provide thousands of meals for impoverished children in Kenya, Haiti, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Jamaica and rural Kentucky. Beginning with her sisters in Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, the effort quickly gathered campuswide and then Lafayette County and Oxford community support.

Each year since, hundreds of people from the L-O-U community and beyond have come together to pack food. And if all goes as planned, next weekend’s seventh Feed the Hunger Pack-a-Thon could see the original goal realized.

Feed the Hunger packing sessions will be held at Oxford Intermediate School gym on Martin Luther King Drive from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday and 9 to 11 a.m., noon to 2 p.m. and 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday. Money for the event is raised through donations from campus organizations, local businesses and churches.

“Our goal this year is to pack 180,000 meals to reach the goal of 1 million meals packed in seven years,” said Emily Barnhouse of Dallas, a sophomore business marketing major and chairperson for the event. “To accomplish this, we must raise $50,400.

“While the bulk of these funds come from Ole Miss sororities and fraternities, we also rely heavily on the Oxford and Lafayette County community to help us reach our packing goals. More than 800 people participate in the event each year.”

First of its kind

UM was the first university in the nation to partner with the nonprofit organization in conducting pack-a-thon events. At least six other universities have since launched Feed-the-Hunger programs.

A Mississippi State University student who participated in an Ole Miss pack-a-thon four years ago shared her experience with students on the Starkville campus. MSU is conducting its first pack-a-thon this weekend.

“Over the years, it has been an honor to have the University of Mississippi partner with us to feed hungry children around the world,” said Melinda Staples, project manager at the organization’s headquarters in Burlington, North Carolina. “We hope that this relationship continues to grow, impacting thousands of lives everywhere.”

Students who participate in the pack-a-thon often travel to other countries to make deliveries. Over the 2016 Christmas break, seven UM students and two relatives traveled with Staples to Haiti to distribute meals that were packed at various pack-a-thons nationwide.

Making a difference

Cayla Hari, last year’s Pack-a-Thon chairperson, was among those who made the trip. She described what she witnessed while visiting Haitian schools, orphanages and remote villages.

“Being able to make a difference beside those who are in your community is so rewarding,” said Harli, a junior psychology and Spanish major from Southaven. “The need in Haiti is so great. One day, we witnessed school kids literally filling their pockets and backpacks with extra food in order to take it home to their starving families. It was heartbreaking.”

Staples said she understands how deeply being involved with actual deliveries affects students.

“Actually seeing these malnourished children helps university students to briefly step out of their world and connects them to something great,” Staples said. “Most times, the meal delivered is the only one these children may eat the whole day. Sometimes, it’s the only one they have for an entire week.”

Barnhouse also ask participants to bring donations for the local program, Love Packs. Love Packs provides meals for Lafayette County school students who may not have meals over the weekend. Items being collected include Beenie Weenies, pop-top soup or ravioli, apple sauce or granola bars.

“We’re showing the local community how passionate we are about this and how needy these children really are,” she said. “These people really need us. That’s the message we want to get across.”

Kimberly Phillips, academic counselor in the UM School of Business Administration and adviser for Feed-the-Hunger, said she is hopeful that this year’s event is successful.

“Our pack-a-thons have become a training ground,” Phillips said. “We want to keep on setting an example of altruism for others who come, participate and then launch their own pack-a-thon events.”

Mary Katherine Phillips, who has participated in every UM pack-a-thon from its inception, said she definitely plans to participate again next weekend.

“It’s amazing,” Beck said. “I’m so proud of how committed everyone has been to this.”