March 15, 2016
By Mike Killeen
Statistics are a part of any sport. On Sunday, March 13, about 250 student-athletes from Saint John's University posted one very impressive statistic.
They packed 45,576 meals for starving people around the globe.
Like any good story, this began long before anyone filed into Guild Hall on a dreary, gray morning.
Back on Nov. 14, members of the SJU golf team attended a Kids Fighting Hunger event in St. Cloud, Minnesota. The golf team usually does a community service project at the end of its fall season.
"When I learned that the golf team was interested, I asked them if they would be willing to help move ingredients," said Cathy Wogen, executive director of St. Cloud Kids Fighting Hunger. "The rice bags weigh 50 pounds and the soy 40 pounds, so I usually need about 20 volunteers to make sure that the tables have the ingredients needed to package the meals."
"They loved having us there to help," said Mack Farley, a junior from Lakeville, Minnesota, who is majoring in economics and accounting at SJU and a golfer for the Johnnies.
That got Farley thinking.
"Imagine if we brought this to SJU, and had some student-athletes helping out, imagine what we could do," Farley said.
"We figured what better way to have (a packing event) here," added Morgan Rask, a junior from Otsego, Minnesota, who is majoring in accounting and is Farley's teammate. "People don't need to find rides. We have our students to show others, 'Look at our school banding together. Our athletes are leaders, and are getting together to put this on for the community.' "
Farley and Rask quickly got the SJU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee involved in the planning and fundraising for the event. Many athletes voluntarily kicked in $10; additional funds were also donated by the SJU Senate; the Central Minnesota Credit Union; the Knights of Columbus; and by Fr. Ian Dommer, OSB, director of Campus Ministry at SJU, who donated money collected at recent Masses.
The group presented a $5,500 check to Kids Fighting Hunger, which helped pay for the ingredients at the packing event. (An additional $700 was raised through other sources.)
"The golf team has been on top of this the whole time," said senior Nick Martin, SJU's SAAC president. "We figured that if we could team up - SAAC and the golf team - it would be a really good way to raise some money and a good way to get all the athletes involved."
They split the event into two sessions. When the student-athletes checked in, they heard Wogen speak about Kids Fighting Hunger and viewed a short video. The student-athletes then split into 10 tables of 10 people each packing white rice, soy, a mineral powder and dehydrated vegetables into plastic bags, which were sealed and then loaded into boxes.
A total of 211 boxes were filled. Most will go to either Malawi or Sierra Leone in Africa; an additional 20 boxes were sent to the St. Joseph Food Shelf.
"It's such an amazing assembly line - it's like Henry Ford," said Scott Biersheid, head athletic trainer at SJU and SAAC adviser. "Nutrition is such a big part of their lifestyle as athletes. They realize how important it is for them to feed themselves, to recover, to perform as well. When you watch that video, you really get touched with what you're doing and realize that you've got people out there that are starving from day-to-day."
All of which put a big smile on SJU golf coach Bob Alpers' face.
"We're really fortunate to be working with a great agency like Kids Fighting Hunger," Alpers said. "It was cool to see the amount of money the guys came up with themselves. I think that spoke volumes. Then, to see the number of guys that showed up on a Sunday morning trying to help people out, it shows what our kids are about.
"Our kids have big hearts, and they want to give back. They're not only doing it with their time, but with their money, too."
"It shows that everyone is committed, to put an hour or two of their time toward something else that's not toward themselves," Martin said, when asked about the event. "I think it reflects really good on our students and really who we are as a community."
Wogen said she was impressed by the efforts of Farley and Rask.
"Both men have been integral to the planning process, in particular fundraising," Wogen said. "Without the fundraising efforts, this event would not be possible. ... They felt strongly about sharing their experience with the broader SJU athletic community and have been very successful imparting the meaning of this type of event. Without their interest, foresight and follow through, this event wouldn't have happened."
"We thought, 'What better way than to get some of the (student) leaders involved and set the initiative," Farley said.
"We're out here to make the community better," Rask said. "What better way than to do that with this project."