Dakota Wesleyan students, faculty take a bite out of hunger
“Hunger is a really solvable problem with the right connections and resources,” Ariana Arampatzis said.
Belief in that statement is what drives Arampatizis, a sophomore at Dakota Wesleyan University (DWU) at Mitchell, S.D., to spend the hours she isn’t in the classroom organizing food drives, volunteering at food pantries and meeting with other like-minded college students across the state to talk about hunger and how to eliminate it.
"Hunger is a really solvable problem with the right connections and resources." Ariana Aampatzis
In a state where one out of every five children is at risk of going hungry, discussing feeding programs is more than academic.
Students and faculty at DWU are no strangers to solving hunger issues. The United Methodist university has a history of providing solutions when it comes to lack of food and poor nutrition, a legacy with ties to the late Sen. George McGovern, a Mitchell native and advocate for world hunger relief. The school’s efforts, particularly its participation in Presidents United to Solve Hunger (PUSH), have been recognized on a national level.
In December 2014, Dr. Amy Novak, the university’s president, Alisha Vincent, McGovern Center director, and Arampatizis, who is president of DWU’s chapter of Universities Fighting World Hunger, were invited to the United Nations in New York City to participate in The Hunger Forum and Public Signing Ceremony.
Novak is one of six members of the national PUSH steering committee and Dakota Wesleyan is the only United Methodist and only private faith-based learning institution represented in the group. Because of Novak’s prominent role, she was given the opportunity to discuss the positive work occurring at Dakota Wesleyan during the U.N. event. Approximately 60 university leaders from around the globe participated in the Public Signing Ceremony, which was followed by a Hunger Forum, where leaders from various entities challenged the universities to become the tipping point in fighting hunger and insecurity.
Back in Mitchell, Novak, Vincent and Aramptizis are definitely leading the charge, both locally and globally.
DWU students have found a way to make a difference in Mitchell, a small town of 14,000 people. Through the Weekend Snack Pack Program, students assemble and deliver food to approximately 400 children, distributing the food packs to four local elementary schools. The children receive foods, such as ravioli, macaroni and cheese and either a fruit or a vegetable. The program was created in 2010 to help children who primarily stay home alone on the weekends have something nutritious to eat. The students also aid the local food pantry with canned food drives.
The DWU students and faculty help their neighbors in other parts of the world, as well, including Uganda and Rwanda, where they have instituted programs to help alleviate hunger. In 2013, Vincent began the Livestock for Life project in Uganda, where she works with local leaders to identify families that qualify for a goat or cow. The program helps with food and can generate small incomes for families. In July, Vincent will take a group of students to Uganda to lead an agriculture workshop for farmers and work on a plot of land that helps support a school lunch program.
To continue the conversation on a larger scope throughout South Dakota, the McGovern Center is set to host the McGovern Hunger Summit on April 15 on the DWU campus.
“The summit will bring together people from across South Dakota to find ways to collaborate to end hunger here in the state,” Vincent said.
The ongoing conversation, Novak said, is an important one.
“Fundamentally, it’s a game changer,” said Novak. “When you are hungry, you don’t learn. When you are hungry, you aren’t able to do the kind of things to alleviate the economic stresses in your life.
“At the heart of the United Methodist mission is this call to justice and a call to embrace the least of our brothers and sisters in their state of struggle,” she said. “I think we would be remiss as an institution if we don’t address these issues.”
Helping with the fight against hunger is more than an extracurricular activity, but rather at the heart of that which she and others at DWU should be focused, Novak said.
“This is what John Wesley called us to do, folks. We have to ignite a fire and that fire needs to inspire others to be Christian witnesses of justice,” she said. “Education is a vehicle to do that. It starts at the core of our mission.”
Crystal Caviness is a Public Relations Specialist at United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tenn.
Contact: Crystal Caviness, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5138 or firstname.lastname@example.org