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Ithaca College student masterminds plan to utilize ‘Food Bucks’ to feed the hungry

Gabrielle Picca is one amazing, young woman. When she found out that unused food bucks at her college were being rolled back into the school at the end of the spring semester, she was shocked. 
That shock led to action. 
Hear more from Gabby on how she started a movement of kindness and compassion for those in her community who often go hungry.

“Ithaca College students select a meal plan before the beginning of each academic year. There are a variety of meals plan options that students can pick from. It is a two tiered meal plan system. Students can pick how many dining hall swipes they want and then how many ‘Bonus Bucks’ they want to have. For example, there is a meal plan that allows students 14 swipes per week and I believe around 250 Bonus Bucks. Therefore students have 14 swipes to get in to the dining halls on campus, but then have 250 Bonus Bucks, which is basically $250 to spend on more retail dining such as a smoothie, chicken fingers, french fries, etc. There is also Mac’s General Store on campus that has bags of chips, candy, peanut butter, and items like frozen meals that are available for students to purchase with Bonus Bucks.
At the end of the fall semester, any unused Bonus Bucks will be rolled over in to the spring semester. But at the end of every spring semester, any unused Bonus Bucks do not get rolled over in to the following academic year. They are put back in to the school’s budget which is essentially wasted money that the student and their family paid for a meal plan.
Last spring, in my freshman year, I was in Mac’s General Store purchasing random food items because I had about 30-50 Bonus Bucks left over, and I did not want them to go to waste. I was purchasing food that I absolutely did not need and I looked around the store and there was a number of students doing the same thing as I was. I thought in my head that all this food could go towards someone who actually needs it.
My original idea was to create a blanket contract or waiver that students could sign when choosing a meal plan, stating that any leftover Bonus Bucks would automatically be donated. With the help of Dave Prunty, Director of Auxiliary Services at Ithaca College, we came up with the idea to have students actively choose to give back, instead of just blanket sweeping them for whatever they had left.
We began to work with Rick Watson, Director of the Campus Store, Jeff Scott, Director of Dining Services and Rebecca Sexton, Marketing Manager for Dining Services. Rebecca used to serve on the Foodbank of the Southern Tier Board and got me connected with them. From there she provided us with the types of food that the Food Bank would be in need of. 
I came up with the idea for a display stand because I felt that often times people don’t want to donate if they don’t know where exactly their money is going. I also felt like people did not realize how much their money could actually buy and that a display stand could put that into perspective for them.
We created three bundle packages that students could purchase. There were $5, $10 and $20 options. The $5 bundle included one jar of peanut butter, one box of Kraft mac n’ cheese, and one cup of applesauce. The $10 bundle had all the products that the $5 bundle has, plus five additional cups of applesauce. The $20 bundle consisted of everything in the $10 bundle, plus one canned chicken, one canned tuna, two additional applesauce cups and two additional Kraft mac n’ cheese boxes.

​​ A challenge we were faced with was the fact that monetary donations are more valuable than food donations. Unfortunately, since Ithaca College is a nonprofit organization, students are unable to donate their Bonus Bucks as monetary donations to another nonprofit organization. Therefore we came up with a two tier system that allowed students to make food donations in Mac’s General Store, where students primarily use Bonus Bucks to purchase items. Rick trained his employees at the register in the bookstore to ask if students wanted to make a dollar donation and trained employees at the register in Mac’s General Store if they wanted to make a food donation with any unused Bonus Bucks.
We began this program at the beginning of April. I created posters and made announcements on social media and in my extra-curricular clubs to generate awareness.
In the first week alone, we had almost $500 worth of food donations! By commencement, which was the last day possible to donate, students had donated $8,630 in total!! This equaled 528 jars of peanut butter, 1,276 boxes of mac n’ cheese, 588 cups of applesauce, 528 jars of grape jelly, 528 cans of chicken and 528 cans of tuna!! 
The dining services created their donation program on campus that raised $2,392, which then combined totaled $11,022.

This is something I will be looking to improve next year and the year following to hopefully generate even more donations than we did this year. I will also be looking in to how to expand this program to other neighboring colleges such as Cornell, Cortland and Binghamton. 
I just saw a place where money could be used more efficiently and effectively. It blew my mind that around $9,000 was being wasted from student’s meal plans and being put back in to Ithaca College’s budget. There are people right in our backyard who are starving and don’t know when their next meal is going to be.
People don’t often realize that the hunger problem is closer than it seems. I hope that this program continues even after I graduate because I think it will help to change the lives of many families.”
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