The USD Gallagher Center participated in Martin Luther King’s (MLK) Day of Service on Jan. 18 by partnering with the Vermillion Food Pantry and Feeding South Dakota to host a week-long food drive leading up to MLK day.
This was the first year the Gallagher Center put on the MLK Day of Service Food Drive, nevertheless, it was a success said Kim Albracht, the assistant director for the Gallagher Center.
“Normally, (the Gallagher Center) has had groups that have gone to various community organizations to volunteer on MLK day but this year with the pandemic that wasn’t as easily possible,” Albracht said. “This was an easier way to safely allow people to do something to honor Dr. King so that’s why we decided to go with the food drive.”
The Gallagher Center had been advertising the food drive for several weeks on social media and through signs on USD’s campus to promote the food drive. Albracht said marketing the food drive was the hardest part about putting it on because the food drive occurred immediately after winter break.
“We come back from such a long break and MLK day comes up so fast when everyone gets back (to campus),” Albracht said. “The biggest challenge really was just making people aware of the opportunity to participate because we needed to start right away when people returned to campus.”
Through this promotion, the Gallagher Center was able to get over 20 volunteers to help with organizing and putting on the food drive.
The food drive started on Monday, Jan. 10 when a group of volunteers drove around neighborhoods in Vermillion putting door hangers on people’s doors telling how someone could participate in the food drive.
There were several ways in which Vermillion residents and USD students participated in the food drive. Some participated by dropping off food in a bin at the MUC the Gallagher Center put in place for the drive.
Others signed up online to leave food by their front door and for the food drive’s volunteers to come pick up the food on Jan. 18. The last option that some chose was to directly donate money to the Vermillion Food Pantry online.
On Jan. 18 volunteers went around town to collect the food people were donating as well as record the total amount of food collected during the food drive.
Albracht said the drive collected a total of over 650 pounds of food items.
The next day, another group of volunteers gathered all of the food donated during the food drive and delivered it to the Vermillion Food Pantry.
The Gallegher Center’s food drive was held while Clay County, South Dakota and the United States are experiencing a dramatic increase in food insecurity and hunger. This is mostly due to the economic fallout since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States last March.
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Codylee Riedmann, the executive director of the Vermillion Food Pantry, has worked at the Vermillion Food Pantry for just under two years and said he has seen an increase in food insecurity in Clay County since the start of the pandemic.
“People are struggling right now,” Riedmann said. “I know tons of people who lost their jobs. A lot of people don’t have that source of income they normally do and that’s taking a hit.”
Riedmann said the hardest part about people who need the Vermillion Food Pantry’s service is getting people not to be embarrassed or ashamed that they need help.
“I always try to let people know there is no shame for using our service,” Riedmann said. “There is sometimes a stigma people have about going to the Pantry but we really try to treat them as customers and try to give them a positive experience instead of just handing out food.”
This past year the Vermillion Food Pantry has specifically tried to help more senior citizens in Vermillion, Riedmann said.
“It’s been really hard for (senior citizens) more than anyone I would say because of everything that’s been going on,” Rieedmann said. “(Senior citizens) can’t feel comfortable going outside and that adds another stress to coming to (the Vermillion Food Pantry).”
The Vermillion Food Pantry is located at 9 Court Street in downtown Vermillion. You can find the Vermillion Food Pantry’s hours and the contact information to partner with the Vermillion Food Pantry on their website: https://www.vermillionfoodpantry.org/.