PUSH to solve world hunger
When Alisha Vincent sat down in the United Nations building in New York City, she wondered who had been in that chair before. "There's probably been a significant number people from around the world that have occupied that seat at one time or ano...
When Alisha Vincent sat down in the United Nations building in New York City, she wondered who had been in that chair before.
"There's probably been a significant number people from around the world that have occupied that seat at one time or another," she said. "It was inspiring to be there."
Vincent, director of the McGovern Center, joined Dakota Wesleyan University President Amy Novak and DWU student Ariana Arampatzis on Dec. 9 at the U.N., as Novak became one of the university presidents to sign the Presidents' Commitment to Food and Nutrition Security. Novak was one of six of those presidents selected to be on a steering committee for Presidents United to Solve Hunger -- PUSH.
"It was exciting," Novak said.
According to information from PUSH, in February, the Hunger Solutions Institute, in partnership with the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization held a forum. A consensus outcome from that gathering, which drew 70 leaders from 30 universities in Canada, the U.S. and Latin America, was the Presidents' Commitment to Food and Nutrition Security.
Novak and Vincent signed the commitment this summer. The other members of the steering committee, along with Novak, include the chair for the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development Brady Deaton, presidents from universities in the Netherlands and Honduras as well as two other universities in the U.S.
Novak said she sees Dakota Wesleyan's role as being an inspiration to and model for other small, faith-based institutions to make similar efforts to fight hunger in their communities.
"Small institutions can be very powerful instruments of change," Novak said.
Novak said Dakota Wesleyan joined the effort, in part, because it so closely aligns with efforts its faculty and students already are passionate about, and which mirror one of the great passions of the late George McGovern. McGovern, for whom the McGovern Center on DWU's campus is named, dedicated much of his life to providing food for people in need. He wrote a book on the topic, "The Third Freedom: Ending Hunger in Our Time," and served as the first director of Food for Peace, a food aid program.
"We became really excited about the idea," Novak said.
Early in her time at the McGovern Center, Vincent said she brought people together to get feedback on what direction the center should take. It became apparent that, to honor the memory of the late Democratic senator, there were two things George McGovern was passionate about, politics, and solving hunger. He and his wife, Eleanor, are both alumni of Dakota Wesleyan.
"We are very fortunate to have the legacy already established by George and Eleanor McGovern," Vincent said.
That connection has opened doors that otherwise might remain shut to a small liberal arts university in South Dakota.
"I've been able to meet some really incredible people who are engaged at the highest level in the battle against hunger," Vincent said.
It's a legacy that Dakota Wesleyan students have already bought into, she said. The DWU chapter of Universities Fighting World Hunger -- renamed The Third Freedom, after McGovern's book -- has bloomed from five students a year ago to 25 active members, and even more are showing interest. Arampatzis, a sophomore, is the president of the student organization, and said the issue of feeding hungry people has become a passion of hers.
"We have enough food on Earth to feed everyone," she said, noting there just aren't the right resources and methods to distribute that food to everyone who needs it. "That just blows my mind."
Visiting the U.N. was not only inspirational, but she hopes that Dakota Wesleyan will be able to "ignite a fire" among other students to get involved in combating world hunger.
"Hopefully the next step will be getting students connected," she said.
"Our students are really committed to making the world a better place and their enthusiasm for defeating hunger in our local and global communities is contagious," Vincent said. "I'm thankful for the chance to work with such an inspiring group of students and community members."
In fact, Novak and Vincent both noted that many of the steps PUSH wants schools to implement are things DWU is already doing. University efforts to combat hunger include UFWH students helping with the Love Feast, canned food drives, Mitchell Food Pantry and the Snack Pack Program. Vincent said this spring, students will work on food policy initiatives with Bread for the World hopes to develop opportunities with Feeding South Dakota.
"Our students, really, are the ones who are pushing this forward and saying 'we want to be part of this,' " Novak said. "Really all I'm doing is facilitating their skills and talents."
In addition, the McGovern Center supports a Livestock for Life project that works with local leaders to identify families that qualify for a goat or cow. They raise the animal until it produces then given the first born back to the community for redistribution. The program helps with food and can generate small incomes for families.
Globally, students continue to participate in the McGovern Center's Livestock for Life project. Vincent said she is taking some UFWH students to Uganda in July to do an agriculture workshop for smallholder farmers, and the program has a plot of land in rural Uganda that helps support a school lunch program there.
"Our students are no longer the students that are OK with sitting in lecture halls," Vincent, who is also a faculty member at DWU, said. "We really do have a changing demographic of students who really want to get their hands dirty, so to speak."
Having Novak on the steering committee for the group helps DWU occupy the niche for small, liberal arts universities to join the cause, Novak and Vincent agreed.
"I'm very proud to work with President Novak. Dakota Wesleyan has the ability to be the beacon," Vincent said. "We have the opportunity to really take a leadership role in solving hunger, especially among small, faith-based universities."
All three women referenced the importance of alleviating hunger for people locally, regionally and globally. Vincent and Arampatzis spoke of experiences on mission trips, seeing small children dying of starvation. A rural Chamberlain native, Vincent said she has traveled extensively domestically and internationally, and seeing people dying of hunger is not something you soon forget.
"I've seen what it looks like when people are starving," she said. "I've never experienced that pain, but I've been in a lot of situations and have a lot of close relationships with people who have."
And while PUSH has a global focus, DWU hopes to continue to focus on the local and regional levels. It's easy to assume it can't happen here, they said -- but it does. On Tuesday, Novak said the Snack Pack program gave out 387 food packs -- just for Mitchell youth.
"I think that's a pretty significant concern," Novak said. "When people aren't hungry, they can live more productive lives."
To continue working toward collective solutions, Dakota Wesleyan will host its first Hunger Summit on April 15 on campus. Vincent said she's been working with South Dakota State University, Feeding South Dakota, the Midwest Dairy Association and others to focus on solutions for South Dakota.
"I'm really excited about that. I'm really hoping we can get people from around the community and state," Vincent said. "We really believe in collective partnerships."