By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – University of Nebraska at Kearney student-athletes traded their uniforms for hair nets and aprons Tuesday to help fight hunger in the community.
UNK Athletics teamed up with Sodexo, the university’s dining services provider, to make and distribute nearly 3,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The sandwiches were delivered Tuesday and Wednesday to the Big Blue Cupboard and Food Recovery Network on campus, Crossroads Mission Avenue, Kearney Jubilee Center, Community Action Partnership of Mid-Nebraska and Kearney First United Methodist Church’s Food Pantry at East Lawn.
UNK Dining by Sodexo coordinated the first-time event, and approximately 200 players and coaches representing all 14 UNK sports signed on as volunteers.
Parker Humpal, vice president of UNK’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, wasn’t surprised by the strong turnout.
“We want to give back to the community that supports us in everything we do,” said Humpal, a Fort Collins, Colorado, native who plays women’s soccer and studies elementary education at UNK. “We have community members who come to our events and support us at our games and meets, so it’s important that we return the favor whenever we can.”
“If that’s making 3,000 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, then that’s what we’ll do,” the junior added.
The sandwich drive was sponsored by Sodexo and Pan-O-Gold Baking Company. Pan-O-Gold donated half the bread, and Sodexo provided the remaining ingredients and supplies.
Sodexo, which became UNK’s campus dining partner in May, is a longtime supporter of hunger-fighting efforts through both local events and larger initiatives. The company’s Stop Hunger Foundation has contributed nearly $30 million over the past 20 years to help feed families in America who are impacted by hunger, providing the equivalent of more than 3 million meals in fiscal year 2019 alone.
Sodexo’s annual peanut butter and jelly sandwich drives are part of a monthlong celebration of World Kindness Day. Throughout November, Sodexo partner campuses host similar events to benefit local hunger-fighting organizations.
In 2018, Sodexo dining teams at 34 campuses in 13 states partnered with more than 1,700 volunteers to distribute nearly 46,000 sandwiches to those in need. This year’s goal is to reach 50,000 sandwiches.
Dakarai Monegain-Box, a UNK junior from Denver, Colorado, was happy to help the effort.
The exercise science major and pre-nursing student volunteered Tuesday because he wants to make a difference in Kearney.
“I know some people are missing a lot of meals,” said Monegain-Box, a member of the UNK football team. “Peanut butter and jelly, as simple as it may seem, can mean the world to them.”
Les Bentz, field marketing coordinator for UNK Dining by Sodexo, wants the sandwich drive to be an annual tradition on campus.
“UNK fosters an amazing atmosphere of student participation in events that support the community, and we hope this event will grow a little more every year,” she said.