Student group combats hunger in Omaha

Photo by April Knipp

April Knipp

Students Against Hunger at the University of Nebraska at Omaha is kicking off their food pack program where they provide a recipe and ingredients to families in need this Thanksgiving.

They are currently accepting donations for the packs. Students Against Hunger donation boxes can be found on the main floor of the Criss Library, the first floor of the Community Engagement Center and on the third floor of Kayser Hall. Other locations will be added in the weeks to come. A list of needed items will be available at the box locations.

Starting in January, SAH will provide 20-55 students who are at risk with a complete meal kit once a month.

As donations pick up, they hope to provide meal packages more often and to more students across the city.

One in five children in Nebraska are uncertain from where their next meal will come, especially over weekends and during school breaks.

“Hunger is an issue everybody should be addressing,” said masters student and President of SAH Jacques Musavyimana. “When we are eating three times a day we don’t think there are other people not eating the same. We tend to waste the stuff and don’t think there are people out there that are hungry.”

The Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity will supply gift cards for turkeys for their Thanksgiving boxes. Family Fare grocery has also agreed to help with donations.

“We want people to have a nice meal that they can sit down with their families and eat and not have to worry about how to put together,” English Specialist and Advisor Connie Sorensen-Birk said.

Students Against Hunger was established two years ago. The organization partnered with Druid Hill Elementary School to help children and their families who were hungry.

“It started from my English composition class,” Sorensen-Birk said. “We read a lot of articles about different current events. One of which was the Ebola crisis.”

After class, Musavyimana pulled Sorensen-Birk aside. He felt that if students worked together they could help eliminate hunger. Their focus moved closer to home after viewing a documentary about hunger and poverty in Omaha.

“We started educating ourselves,” Musavyimana said. “We invited Hunger Free Heartland to campus to tell us what’s going on in Omaha, what are statistics nationwide.”

A small group of students began meeting and working closely with the Siena Francis House and the Aksarben Farmer’s Market to help fight hunger in the Omaha area.

It was another documentary that sparked SAH’s food packs project.

“One of my students was very moved by the discussion of how hunger impacts learning in children,” Sorensen-Birk said. “So, she came to the next meeting and said this is what we should be addressing. We should be addressing elementary school kids that don’t have enough to eat.”

Musavyimana loved the idea right away. As a refugee, he struggled with hunger as a child. His daily job was to go out and beg for food.

“I could relate to the story; kids sitting in the classroom, hungry, they could not focus,” Musavyimana said. “I was once that kid that went to school and didn’t have a good lunch and fell asleep.”

Despite his challenging childhood, Musavyimana always has a smile on his face and is grateful for the opportunities he has been given.

“When you work to destroy hunger, you have to be happy,” Musavyimana said. “You have to work with energy and passion to do so. There’s nothing better than feeding someone who’s hungry. I’ve been hungry before. I know how it hurts, and if you are making a difference, there is no better feeling.”

Students Against Hunger has grown from five members to 60. In addition to the food pack program, they have also recently teamed up with WoodmenLife and is a crowdfunding organization created right here in Omaha that allows people to donate through their app.

“I think it matters that people know that other people care enough to help,” Sorensen-Birk said. “We just want people to know that these are students that care about you having food.”