Graduate student Julie LaBerge has partnered with The Pantry and local churches in Oxford to create the first annual Food for Oxford drive.
This summer, Food for Oxford will combat food waste to accommodate The Pantry’s annual summer drought by teaming up with off-campus student living complexes. The three complexes serving as drop-off locations for food donations are The Retreat, The Connection and Highland Square.
“Our main goal is to raise a significant amount of food donations and monetary donations, if offered, to help support the local pantry through their annual food drought they suffer from each year in the summer – the summer where their need is often times the highest,” LaBerge said. “We also are trying to establish a relationship between the town and the students.”
LaBerge said she encourages all students moving out for the summer to donate their leftover food items instead of throwing them out or leaving them to spoil. In addition to these students, she also wants the rest of the community contribute to the solution for the annual summer drought.
The idea to create Food for Oxford came to LaBerge during the summer before her senior year when she was the last to move out of her house at The Retreat.
“The kitchen was the last to pack up and all of the food had been left,” LaBerge said. “Not one of my roommates had packed the food to take with them. I filled two giant, very hefty trash bags full of just food in our pantry and cabinets.”
She said she tried to find a place to donate the food to no avail.
“I could never get over having to throw most of that food away in just that one house,” LaBerge said. “That is what gave me the idea.”
Currently in her last semester of graduate school, LaBerge has dedicated her time to the food community in Oxford including the local United Way and the Pantry. She credits her involvement and the passionate people that she’s met with giving her the confidence to turn her idea into a reality.
“It always feels good to put a lot of work and effort toward something and it be good, effective, successful,” LaBerge said. “But when it is something that also helps people and will continue helping people after you are gone – feels even better.”
The Food for Oxford drive will begin taking up donations during finals week and continue through graduation weekend. Based on the outcome of the first week, LaBerge will then determine if the organization will administer a second wave during the week of final move out.
LaBerge said that although it may not seem like it, Oxford/Lafayette County is in the top three of the 12 highest food insecure counties in the United States. She said a large amount of students each year throw away hundreds of pounds of food when the school year ends.
LaBerge believes this reallocation of food will help people ranging from the homeless to the elderly.
Churches involved in the food drive include the Community Church of Oxford and Oxford University United Methodist Church. Both churches will help by providing financial and volunteer support.
A worker at the Oxford University United Methodist Church, Pat Forrester, said the church works with the Pantry one month out of the year. She said she has been impressed by Julie and all that she has done.
“Julie is really the blessing in this story and the light,” Forrester said. “She has been a blessing to us all with this idea and it’s been a pleasure to meet and work with her. I just see her light.”