In 2013, three Graduate students working in the campus recreation department at the University of Tennessee started a food drive. They invited schools in their SEC Conference area to join them.
“Knoxville has, right outside the city, a very rural area. And then we have a higher homeless population than some other areas in the country and even in the state,” said Steph Hill, the fitness and wellness graduate assistant at UT. “It’s very important to give back to the area that we live in and work in everyday.”
The collection lasts the entire month of November. The first year, the University of Tennessee and the University of Kentucky participated. Together, they raised 3,600 cans between the two schools. In 2014, UT and UK participated as well as Mississippi State University, University of Alabama, University of Arkansas, and together the five universities raised 9,200 cans.
This year, Mississippi State University, University of Alabama, University of Tennessee, University of Kentucky, University of Missouri, Ole Miss and the University of Florida are participating and together, they hope to raise 13,000 cans. According to Brendan Beilman, the sport club and marketing graduate assistant at the University of Tennessee, that number of cans will impact approximately 3,500 families throughout the Southeast area.
“We have the opportunity to make such a large impact on our local communities and we didn’t want to just be the Knoxville area, but ideally to get the entire southeast,” said Beilman.
UK and UT plan to spruce up the competition at their own universities this year. At UK, Courtney Pfug, the staff support associate for campus recreation at UK, said internal departments are running mini-competitions. The fraternity or sorority that donates the most cans receives 25 Greek points. And the week of Nov. 16 – Nov. 20, the anyone who participates in a group fitness class and brings 5+ cans can receive a free campus recreation T-shirt.
At UT, there is an in-house competition within recreational sports. According to Ethan Engel, the intramural sports graduate assistant, club sports have brought in the largest number of cans between all of the university’s rec sports. This year, they’re holding a Champs vs. Challengers, with the Champs being club sports and challengers the rest of the rec sport programs divided into three teams. The hope is to get the rest of the teams to beat Club Sports for the Champ position.
Aside from the competition, however, Pfug not only appreciates this opportunity to give back, but also partner with other universities in the same conference to work toward a greater goal.
“We’re rivals throughout the year for so many things, sport-wise, but I think it’s a great way to bring the SEC together. There’s so much that we can do as a network for other people. And I think seeing Campus Recreation departments join together to do something good is always a positive thing,” said Pfug.
Each university chooses where the cans they raise will be donated. UK is donating to The Big Blue Pantry, which is an organization that serves UK students who may not be able to afford groceries. UT is donating to Second Harvest, a local food bank 20 minutes from campus.
“The campus recreation community is tight. It’s very cool to see how everyone is willing to work with each other to have the best recreational facilities possible so we can provide opportunities for our students,” said Beilman. “Specific to the food drive, I think it’s important that we focus on not only the physical well-being, but also the mental, emotional and kind of get in the full perspective of health and wellness. I think that really ties as well to the mission statement.”