Auburn student-athletes, coaches and staff volunteer for End Child Hunger in Alabama.
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. --
The task force charged with fighting child hunger knew just who to turn to in order to spread its message across the state.
"If we're going to get the word out in Alabama, it's going to be through athletics. People will listen to whatever comes off that JumboTron."
Harriet Giles, the managing director at the Auburn University Hunger Solutions Institute, figured that out, and she and the statewide task force fighting child hunger have found a willing ally in Auburn's Athletics Department.
Auburn Athletics Director Jay Jacobs has promised his department will be an involved partner in spreading the word about fighting childhood hunger, and the school's student-athletes are already involved.
Details of Auburn's involvement were revealed Friday at a school that saw the Athletics Department win the Southeastern Conference's most-recent community service award with more than a thousand hours of volunteer work by student-athletes. Now, Auburn is doing more.
"This is going to be the Athletics Department's service initiative for our student-athletes who want to give back to the community," Jacobs said.
"Our student-athletes have been in on this, our student-athlete advisory committee is 100 percent behind it. We're going to do whatever we can for athletics to be the foundation to help educate and feed the children of Lee County who go to bed hungry. We're going to do our part.
"It's the most singular philanthropic thing that we've done in athletics since I've been here. This initiative will be year-round. We want to be a part of the solution.
"We have student-athletes, these role models, who can reach them. We have a unique asset in our student-athletes who always want to give back."
Giles, the Director of External Relations for the College of Human Sciences, is impressed.
"Jay said Auburn is going to put its marketing and our student volunteers behind it; and we're going to help you raise money for it. It's a comprehensive commitment," Giles said. "We're going to have our message on a website and in athletics literature. We have a voice we've never had before.
"It comes from Jay's heart. He didn't realize until he had fostered children that there were kids that were 15 minutes away that needed help."
Student-athletes know all kinds of stats. These are disturbing: 16 million children in the United States experience food insecurity. One in four children in Alabama experience food hardships. Nearly 60 percent of public school children in the state participate in federally-funded free or reduced school lunch program.
Auburn's athletes have already begun to give back by packing backpacks with food. A celebrity golf tournament by PGA champ and Auburn alum Jason Dufner raised money. His backpacks contributed, too.
The task force features state leaders, including Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey. It began taking shape in the fall of 2012. By last year, Jacobs was approached by Giles and June Henton, the Dean of the College of Human Sciences, to see if Auburn Athletics would help.
"They came to me and asked, 'Can athletics help us promote hunger awareness? We want to stamp out hunger in Alabama,'" Jacobs said. "Dean Henton and Harriet Giles have a tremendous vision in what they want to accomplish. I just love talking to them because they have these big visions that make you want to be a part of something that can be life changing. What I told them is we want to help stamp out hunger in Lee County. Let's start here. Let us create a bright spot on how others can do it in other counties."
"The program is global," Giles said, "but we know we need to take care of people in our own backyard. We would train them in advocacy, and how to take action and how to do something about it."
Auburn is helping lead the way.