By Jeff Shearer
Like he has many times before, Jay Jacobs challenged his audience to work together to overcome a formidable opponent.
This time, the audience members were not coaches or student-athletes, and the opponent was not a rival school.
Auburn's Director of Athletics was one of the featured speakers at the "Athletics Serving the Greater Good" session at the Presidents United to Solve Hunger (PUSH) Leaders Forum at the University of Missouri in Columbia in late February.
"We teach our athletes to work together for the good of the team to win games," Jacobs said in his address. "I believe we should also teach them to work together for the greater good of all humankind."
PUSH was formed two years ago when presidents and senior leaders from 30 universities joined forces to determine how their institutions could collaborate to end hunger and malnutrition.
Officially launched in December, 2014, at the United Nations, PUSH now includes more than 80 institutions from five continents.
Since Jacobs made End Child Hunger in Alabama (ECHA) the signature community service initiative for Auburn Athletics in 2014, Auburn student-athletes have filled and helped deliver more than 100,000 bags of food for children in Lee County in support of the Jason Dufner Foundation's weekend feeding program.
"Many of our student-athletes have been personally affected by hunger," Jacobs said. "They have embraced the opportunity to support the cause."
Jacobs shared with the university presidents a quote from Alabama Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey, the spokesperson for the ECHA campaign.
"It's an uncomfortable truth that children in our own neighborhoods are hungry and may not know where their next meal will come from."
Child hunger impacts one in four children in Alabama.
"That is unacceptable," Jacobs said.
That's why Jacobs led Auburn Athletics to partner with Auburn University's Hunger Solutions Institute (HSI).
In 2012, Auburn's HSI created ECHA, with the goal of moving Alabama from the bottom one-third of states with the greatest child food insecurity, into the top one-fourth of states with the greatest food security by 2020.
ECHA introduced a new marketing campaign Monday at Glen Iris Elementary School in Birmingham, unveiling a public service announcement called Every Meal Matters.
"The impact generated by the PSA covering the airwaves in all of our major media markets is going to give tremendous momentum to the campaign and truly turn it into a public movement," said Harriet Giles, managing director of Auburn's HSI.
A decade ago, Giles and College of Human Sciences dean June Henton co-founded Universities Fighting World Hunger.
"In our state, we have focused heavily on summer feeding for the past three years," Giles said. "Working together, we have seen the number of meals served to children double during that time."
When Auburn Athletics joined the fight, it increased awareness, along with providing a team of student-athletes eager to serve their community.
"We need to remember we are not just preparing our student-athletes for the next competition, but for a lifetime of success and leadership," Jacobs said.
The efforts are ongoing. Auburn fans supported the softball team's "Strike Out Hunger" endeavors by donating enough food to fill four large barrels during the Tigers' series against Florida.
"When it comes to ending hunger," Jacobs said, "we are all on the same team."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer