TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — … three, two, one.
As the countdown from 10 ended, The University of Alabama’s 2017 Beat Auburn Beat Hunger team raised the number 260,453 above its heads.
The number’s significance is that 260,453 pounds of food was collected by UA in this year’s Beat Auburn Beat Hunger food drive, far surpassing last year’s total of 150,332 pounds.
And, for the first time in three years, UA not only beat hunger, it beat Auburn University, which collected 232,544 pounds of food this year.
“It is incredible,” said Madison Green, a 21-year-old senior majoring in communications studies and vice president of marketing for Beat Auburn Beat Hunger. “We just can’t believe that we ended up raising 260,000 pounds.
“Our goal was 175,000 pounds, and our unspoken goal was 200,000 pounds,” Green said. “So, just to be able to get to that, and then go 60,000 pounds over it is unbelievable.”
Champaign bottles popped and a non-alcoholic version of the fizzy bubbly shot into the air at the West Alabama Food Bank Wednesday in the aftermath of the announcement.
Not only did UA reach a record high, but also the total amount of food collected by both schools during the Oct. 1 to Nov. 14 drive was 492,997 pounds, shattering the record of 395,300 pounds achieved in 2016.
“This is our 24th year of this campaign,” said Courtney Charland, a 21-year-old senior majoring in operations management at UA and president of Beat Auburn Beat Hunger. “It’s certainly grown a whole lot since our beginning.
“We’re very excited about that growth. Each year we’re just amazed by the ability of the community. Alabama fans come together everywhere to support the cause of the food banks.”
Jean Rykaczewski, executive director of the West Alabama Food Bank, said several factors contributed to this year’s 110,121-pound difference from last year. Primary among them were the use of currency collection apps such as Venmo and social media.
“We used Venmo and did a lot of online giving that we didn’t do before,” she said. “We really focused on alumni from around the world who before weren’t able to participate. I think it’s why we were able to beat our numbers from last year. That, and social media.”
Charland said collection bins were set up at 140 locations throughout the city and on campus. In addition to bins and the online efforts, they partnered with numerous groups such as Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, Sigma Chi fraternity, Buffalo Rock, Nick’s Kids and Alumni Hall in Midtown Village, which sold T-shirts to Alabama fans nationwide and donated part of the proceeds to the drive.
About 85,000 pounds of this year’s donations were actually food. The rest was monetary donations with every $1 providing about 2 pounds of food.
Rykaczewski said the food will be distributed to the food bank’s 93 partner agencies that will use it to feed thousands of people daily. It should last through April.
“We’ll be able to purchase turkeys with the money that was donated, and we have cans to provide whole meals for people right in time for the holidays,” she said. “People give because of the holidays, but please remember that hunger is a year round thing for a lot of people. People can donate anytime by going to our web page.
“Out of the eight food banks in Alabama, we have some of the highest in-need populations in West Alabama because of counties like Greene and Hale where 30 percent of people there have food insecurity.”
In West Alabama, an average of 21 percent of adults and 27 percent of children are food insecure, according to hunger statistics for the region.
The West Alabama Food Bank states that nearly 60,000 children in West Alabama miss meals daily, do not eat every day or go hungry because there’s not enough food.
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.