Members of the Residential College at West Ambler Johnston volunteered as "tributes" this past weekend at the Montgomery County Christmas Store in the first “End the Hunger Games” service project.
Planning for the project began in September, and the event was launched in October with a canned food drive inspired by the popular book series "The Hunger Games."
“Our whole mission with this project is that, 10 minutes down the road, people don’t always know where their next meal is going to come from. We didn’t want to just call it a canned food drive — it’s hard to get college students excited about philanthropy sometimes so we wanted to make it something that was pop-culturally relevant to college students, something that would catch their attention,” said Lauren Anderson, residential advisor for Holly House of West AJ.
West AJ is a residential learning community divided into four houses that aim to foster a supportive environment for residents of all years. The food drive was part of the West AJ inter-house competition that began earlier in the year.
Hawthorn House won the event by collecting 375 cans, and by the end of the drive, the 800 residents of the college had collected approximately 900 overall cans.
“It blew my expectations away. I would have been happy if two people showed up at the Christmas Store and spent the day hanging out,” Anderson said.
During their time at the store, volunteers restocked shelves and assisted families as they shopped. The first 75 volunteers received a free “End the Hunger Games” T-shirt.
“Once you participate in a program like this, you don’t look at the world the same way and it provides an opportunity that a classroom can’t,” said Benjamin Sax, faculty principle of West AJ.
Originally, the project was going to involve preparing a meal for the underprivileged in the Blacksburg community, but due to logistics, the project shifted course.
“We were going to have college students sitting next to adults, sitting next to little kids, sharing a meal together. Around late-October or November we decided we would work with the Christmas store (instead) because they always need volunteers," Anderson said. "It started as a totally different vision but the ending result was equally as beautiful."
Instead of making a meal, all of the food raised in the drive was donated to the Montgomery County Christmas store, a nonprofit organization that helps low-income families during the Christmas season by providing a shopping experience that families may not otherwise have the opportunity to enjoy.
“People will come to Virginia Tech for four years and never know what happens outside the walls of this institution," Sax said. "That should pay a role in their education as well ... (the fact that) their neighbors are living in conditions that are unfathomable."
Families eligible to shop at the Montgomery County Christmas store receive an income no greater than 25 percent above the poverty line. Some families that shop at the store are elderly, disabled or dealing with emergency circumstances.
“There was so much support from students and leadership, and we are so proud of West AJ ... We’re so thankful to be a part of a community that cares about bringing Christmas to people that don’t always get Santa Claus coming down their chimney,” Anderson said.