It shouldn't take a Ph.D. to find a way to feed the hungry, but that's exactly what happened almost three years ago in Champaign-Urbana.
And, truth be told, it didn't take a Ph.D. — just a doctoral candidate who helped found what became Illini Fighting Hunger.
The recognized student group now is close to packaging its one millionth meal to benefit hungry people in Central Illinois.
And its spiritual leader, the Rev. Julie Dowler, wants to see the program expand to other college campuses in Illinois. We'd like to see the idea considered at our local universities and colleges.
Most college campuses have a variety of groups whose members are expected to perform "service hours." Essentially, you have to volunteer some of your time to help the community, meaning the area off campus.
Collecting food would seem a common and easy way to do that, but it turns out that the U of I and Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago are the only two state universities that belong to Universities Fighting World Hunger, a national coalition of universities whose students work to fight hunger.
About 100 universities belong to the College and University Food Bank Alliance. Northeastern, U of I and Northern Illinois University in DeKalb belong to that group.
In the case of Illini Fighting Hunger, the group relies on others to provide money to buy food in bulk. The group then gathers volunteers (sometimes from the donor groups, sometimes not) to repackage that food into manageable amounts and sends it out to Central Illinois food pantries.
After less than three years, Illini Fighting Hunger has figured out a seamless process for the work, based on the amount of food and number of available volunteers. Fewer volunteers or more food is a longer packaging process then, say, more volunteers with less food.
It's a process that works for almost any age group, can be done indoors, and can be done in a chair or standing. Language barriers can be broken quickly with smiles, pointed fingers and another pair of hands.
In a related Associated Press story about college students who need food help, Feeding America said 1 in 10 hungry U.S. adults is a student. Two million are attending school full time, and one million go part time.
There is always good-natured rivalry among state schools and among schools in the same community. Why not put that rivalry to good use by considering a student-run program that could benefit the colleges and the larger community?
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