Flex Out Hunger, a program that raises money for the Montgomery County Emergency Assistance Program (MCEAP) and the Student Emergency Fund, takes place at the end of every academic year. Students are able to donate leftover funds from their meal plans to go toward the program; this year’s fundraising period occurred between May 3 and May 7. This year’s program raised $21,265.02 for the MCEAP and $7,088.34 for the Student Emergency Fund through campus Flex donations.
Virginia Tech’s chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon played a large part in encouraging students to donate their excess money toward providing food for low-income families in the New River Valley and students at Virginia Tech. They could be seen during the week of fundraising at tables in front of every dining hall. The fraternity supplemented its fundraising through online donations, a raffle and engaging other organizations on campus due to the decreased number of students with dining plans this year.
“Because this year only the freshmen on campus purchased a meal plan, we had far less money in general to draw from,” said Cooper Whiteleather, president of the Virginia Tech chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon. “I would say (COVID-19) definitely affected (fundraising); we just had less money to go around in general, which is part of why we took it so seriously, because we knew that people in the community needed the help now more than ever.”
Virginia Tech Dining Services is also a major partner in the program to combat food insecurity. Originally, they were approached by a fraternity that is no longer in existence to create a program in which excess funds on dining plans could be donated instead of going unused.
“We actually worked with that original fraternity 20 years ago,” said Brian Grove, associate director of Dining Services. “Dining always wants the students to spend their dining plan money on meals, that’s what the number one goal is. But we were kind of struggling — students always had leftover money — and we really wanted to give a couple of avenues to spend their leftover Flex Plan money. Then SigEp came along after the other fraternity was disbanded; they stepped up and created a partnership with Dining Services and took the endeavor forward even more.”
75% of the fundraised money went toward the MCEAP, while the other 25% of the money raised went toward the Dean of Students Student Emergency Fund, a fund managed by the Dean of Students Office that allows students who are in immediate need of financial support to apply for a one-time grant.
“Last year in the spring of 2020, the Dean of Students Office came along as well,” Grove said. “Dining had a great relationship with (Sigma Phi Epsilon) and the Montgomery County Emergency Assistance Program, and we also wanted to give back to the actual university as well, and so that’s when we started with the Dean of Students Student Emergency Fund.”
Despite fundraising being difficult this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Flex Out Hunger program was able to collect a total amount of donations that exceeded expectations. In addition to the $28,000 raised through campus Flex donations, additional funds were raised through cash and a GoFundMe so that non-students could also contribute.
“(The amount of money fundraised) was actually a lot more than we had expected to get, which we were very happy about,” Whiteleather said. “In 2019, which was the last year before (COVID-19), we raised just over $40,000 total, and in 2020 we raised around $11,000 and the majority of that was online donations, not Flex dollars. This year we raised just over $32,000 total, between the Flex donations and other online methods, as well as some cash which was just handed to the people at the booths. It was less than the last in-person year, but significantly more than last year’s pandemic conditions.”