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Alumni-inspired program addresses food insecurity at Virginia Tech, feeds dozens each week

Published: Sep. 30, 2020 at 10:51 PM EDT
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - Food insecurity can often be overlooked or unknown in communities. It exists on college campuses nationwide, including right here at home at Virginia Tech.

“To have this program it has been a complete 180 from where I was back in the spring,” said junior chemical engineering major Mackenzie Roach.

When campus shut down in April due to COVID-19 and Roach lost her part-time job, it was hard to make ends meet.

“Unfortunately, it’s something we shouldn’t have to worry about as college students,” Roach said. “We’re here to get a degree and to make memories and start the rest of our lives, but if you’re in it, it is so real and it’s hard to get out of it and it really impacts the other areas of your life.”

Little did she know, Hema and Mehul Sanghani were already working with the school to help.

“The numbers were quite staggering,” Hema said. “We did not realize that the numbers were as high as they were.”

The Sanghanis were inspired to give back by a study the school did last year that showed 29 percent of undergraduates and 35 percent of graduate students did not have access to the food they need.

“I think one of the things that lots of colleges and universities are learning is that it really is all of us,” said VP for Student Affairs Frank Shushok, Jr. “It is truly a challenge because you can’t just look at someone and know that they are food-insecure.”

A market makes it possible for students with low food security to now get a week’s worth of fresh food. Recipe cards leverage the meals throughout the week, and they can stay anonymous by ordering online.

“To have something ready and it’s already kind of thought through for me, I have vegetables and fruits and whatever it might be for that day, that helps more than words can say,” Roach said.

Shushok said this gift from the Sanghanis is the perfect example of Ut Prosim: I may serve.

“People understand that not by hearing it, but seeing it in action, and I think this program and what the Sanghanis of just flinging hope everywhere and helping students see what Ut Prosim looks like in real life,” Shushok said.

“We hope that this effort will inspire other folks connected to the campus community, other Hokies to give, whether it’s to give to ensure the long-term success of this program or to give back to schools in ways they believe are impactful as well,” Mehul said.

The Sanghanis donated $1.5 million last fall for the program. They’ve been working with the school to launch the market officially this fall and help 75 students each week. They did extensive research to find a unique program that was different than a food pantry.

The couple is hopeful to one day expand it beyond campus.

“This is not a weakness, it happens a lot, more often than we realize and it’s okay," Roach said. "There are resources out there to help you.”

Students in need of meal assistance should reach out to the Dean of Students Office.

Donations for the program can be made here.

Copyright 2020 WDBJ. All rights reserved.

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