December 17, 2012

The students in the Agriculture Department at NJC donated 829 pounds of food.  Many of them traded food items for bonus points on their final tests in various agriculture classes. Learning in and caring for this community

By Barbara Baker

‘Tis the season to be jolly, and the season for giving.  That has been very apparent at Northeastern Junior College this year as efforts made by various student groups and others on campus have been able to raise nearly 3,500 pounds of food for the Logan County Cooperating Ministries Food Bank, plus some.  Students have been especially generous in donating canned items themselves, and going out to others asking for contributions, including donations of money.

As part of its learning environment, Northeastern tries to instill upon its student body how important it is to volunteer in the community.  Student clubs on campus who receive monies allocated by the Campus Activities Board are asked to have at least one activity per year that is a service to the Sterling area. Giving back to a community that is so generous to the college year-round is a priority.  Activities have included everything from food drives and picking up trash along the highways, to ringing the bells for the Salvation Army and providing free haircuts to underprivileged children. In past years, the baseball team has collected enough cash to buy bikes for kids through a specific church program.  This year has been no different.

“Early on, we were asked to make the food bank a priority,” says Kelly Huenink, a faculty member in the agriculture department, who serves as a sponsor for both the Aggies and the Crossroad’s nondenominational faith group on campus.  In response to this request, Huenink took a unique twist to help the effort. On her final exams, she always provides one or more bonus questions that give a student a chance to up their grade some, if they’ve paid attention and can answer the question. This semester, instead of having bonus questions, she gave the students the option of earning one bonus point per food item brought in to donate to the department’s food drive.  They could earn up to 25 points. When all was said and one, the ag building had a heaping pile of food in the corner of Huenink’s classroom and a whole new enthusiasm for taking care of others. Huenink, who plans to spend her Christmas break in Uganda doing missionary work, knows a thing or two about helping take care of people who don’t have enough to eat. “There is a great lesson to be learned by our students in all of this,” she notes. “Some of them have never given toward a cause like this,” she said, “we spent time talking about why people get into situations where they need someone else to help feed them. Agriculture feeds the world and what better way to teach about the importance of this than asking our ag students to get involved in taking care of the hungry.” Huenink teaching the agriculture economics classes, so she tied the canned food drive into her class content as well.

Across campus, the NJC Business Club did a drive and raised 625 pounds of food plus a cash donation of $81.07. The library raised 54 pounds of canned food items through its Food for a Fine campaign that allows a student to have library fines dropped in exchange for food items. A campaign, spearheaded by the Sodexo staff in Pete’s Retreat, a campus café located in the student center,  was supported heavily by the college’s Psychology and Criminal Justice clubs, bringing in another big supply of food. The Math, Science and Outdoor Club combined efforts with the Aggies and Crossroads back in October to Trick or Treat for canned food donations on Halloween. For more than 60 days, efforts have been underway at NJC to help restock the shelves at 230 North 10th Avenue.

NJC has had a long and valuable relationship with Cooperating Ministries. When the agency   announced recently that it was not going to have enough resources to do the annual Christmas baskets for needy families, according to director Lori Gosser, it was NJC’s head baseball Coach Bryan Shepherd, who put on his elf hat, took out his cell phone, and made the calls that saved the campaign.  “This year, because of the economy, we just couldn’t do it without some additional help. Bryan contacted businesses and colleagues and raised the funds for us to keep that program going,” she says. “He was willing to poke around in the community and make the calls and find some help for us. That guy is really determined.”  You could hear the appreciation in her voice.  Shepherd would be the last one to want to be recognized. He would definitely pass on the praise to those who responded to his call for help. Like the students on campus have been learning,  Shepherd knows it feels far better to give than to receive.