BLOOMINGTON — The need for food is universal, so it was only natural for Linda Zhng to spend Saturday morning helping fill the need in the Twin Cities.
Zhng, a freshman at Illinois Wesleyan University, is from Hebei Province in northern China. "Food is very meaningful, and I wanted to do community service," she said. "This is a real chance for me to help."
She was joined by about 30 other IWU students who bagged a half-ton of uncooked rice for Illini Fighting Hunger, and then spread into the Twin Cities to help with the IWU peace garden, an adopt-a-pot program for West Bloomington Revitalization Program, and food pantries at Western Avenue Community Center and Clare House.
It was all part of Harvesting Help: an IWU Interfaith Service Day, which focused on "food justice," or the belief that all people have the right to grow, sell and eat healthy food.
Carly Floyd, a sophomore sociology major from Milwaukee, Wis., was one of the student organizers.
"Service builds bridges across differences," she said, explaining IWU students talked about helping but had not yet acted.
"We're better together," she said. "We came to this to act together for the community."
The students, adorned in green hairnets and plastic gloves, took 50-pound bags of rice and dumped them into plastic bins. Students scooped the rice into large funnels, filling quart-sized plastic bags that were sealed shut and then layered in small boxes for easy transport.
Illini Fighting Hunger is part the Wesley Foundation at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Started three years ago, the student-led food pantry is close to filling its one millionth meal.
The Rev. Julie Dowler said the program relies on other groups — churches, students, scout troops, the public — to donate money to buy the food in bulk. Students and some of those same groups then come together to repackage the items in smaller units.
"I'd love to see this happening on even more college campuses," said Dowler, part of the campus ministry. "Students want to make a difference in other peoples' lives."
She said addressing hunger has far-flung benefits, particularly for children. "If they're eating better, they're learning better. That will come back to benefit our communities" as they get older and get jobs.
Karen Matkovich, a junior nursing major from Zion, said a project of service has common roots for those with religious or nonreligious traditions.
"We all need food. It's for the common good."