By Karen Fernau
GCU News Bureau
As thanks, St. Mary’s recently gave GCU a Hunger Heroes Award.
“Whether GCU employees are volunteering to fill emergency food boxes or student athletes are collecting holiday turkeys, we’re cultivating a special relationship with St. Mary’s,” said Debbie Accomazzo, GCU community outreach manager.
“Their cause is now ours – to remove barriers to future success.”
According to figures supplied by the food bank, in 2016 GCU was responsible for a $2,500 contribution and 6,386 pounds of food. Together the donations provided 23,888 meals to Arizonans struggling to put food on the table.
On top of that, GCU students and staff logged 627 volunteer hours packing emergency food boxes, sorting donations and distributing food to the hungry.
Kerri Cole, St. Mary’s corporate giving officer, thanked GCU for “stepping up in a big way. We reserve the Hunger Hero for organizations making the greatest impact on St. Mary’s hunger relief efforts.”
For faculty and staff, filling food boxes at St. Mary’s is an example of the University’s giving spirit.
“Our faculty is committed to not only our GCU community, but our greater community as well,” said Kate Sprute, a College of Education professor who with fellow faculty recently sorted food donations.
“The opportunity to provide support for a great organization such as St. Mary’s was not something this tremendous group wanted to pass up. We are grateful for the support St. Mary’s provides to those in need. We are happy to lend a hand anytime.”
Athletes also play a role in GCU’s efforts to feed the hungry.
As baseball coach Andy Stankiewicz explained, “One of our favorite events every year is partnering with St. Mary’s. We love traveling to supermarkets and encouraging customers to purchase turkeys for those in need during the holidays. St. Mary’s does so much for our community, it is an honor to work beside them.”
According to St. Mary’s, one in five Arizonans live in poverty and struggle to feed their families. Arizona’s hunger rates are higher than the national averages: Nearly 18 percent of Arizonans are food insecure compared to nearly 16 percent nationwide.
St. Mary’s – the nation’s first food bank – tackles the state’s hunger crisis by distributing more than 40,000 emergency food boxes a month, enough food each day to equal 250,000 meals.
St. Mary’s also delivers prepared meals to after-school programs, including to local students who attend the GCU Learning Lounge.
According to Dr. Joe Veres, executive director of Student Development and Outreach and manager of the Learning Lounge, St. Mary’s delivers about 30 hot or cold meals six days a week to students in the innovative GCU program.
The Learning Lounge was established in 2012 to provide free academic assistance for students from nearby Alhambra High School, and the program now includes 63 schools in west Phoenix. GCU students serve as mentors, both one-on-one and in small groups, and the partnership with St. Mary's has further enhanced learning and student achievement.
“The kids can be here until 7 p.m., and we are thankful we are able to feed them a meal, to offer them nourishment,” he said.
On days when as many as 75 students attend the Learning Lounge, GCU simply notifies St. Mary’s and volunteers deliver as many meals as needed.
“We are blown away by their generosity,” Veres said. “They are an important part of our program.”
St. Mary’s started its Kids Café partnership with GCU in October 2013 and since then has delivered approximately 21,000 meals, Cole said. It provides supper as well as lunch on Saturdays for a daily average of 20 meals during the academic year and both breakfast and lunch during the summer for a daily average of 40 meals.
Contact Karen Fernau at (602) 639-8344 or [email protected].