Childhood food insecurity is a significant problem in Alabama, where 22 percent of children live below the poverty line. Susan Daria’s Concepting and Implementation class in Advertising and Public Relations (A&PR) has become well-known in Tuscaloosa for the fundraisers her students have developed to help feed children who face food insecurity. Daria has had a partnership with Alabama Credit Union since Spring 2011 when an employee called with a request for help.
“I received a cold call from a woman named Dusti Monk who was with Alabama Credit Union at that time. She described Secret Meals to me and asked if I had classes that would be willing to work with them on that program,” Daria said.
Secret Meals For Hungry Children is a program created by Alabama Credit Union in 2008 to combat childhood food insecurity in Alabama. Teachers identify students in need and discreetly place food packs in their backpacks on Fridays to feed them over the weekend.
“When she [Dusti] called, I had no idea how widespread the problem [of food insecurity] was,” Daria said. “Now I can recite some of the statistics in my sleep from working with this project. It is incredibly heartbreaking to hear some of the stories.”
The partnership was formed with Daria’s students for this upper-level PR class to create and implement fundraising events with Secret Meals. Alabama Credit Union covers expenses for the class campaigns and provides research and statistics on childhood food insecurity. This project became the sole focus of her class.
Students have produced many ideas over the years of this course, from motorcycle rides and comedy shows to tastings and galas. What Daria finds most satisfying is watching her students face hurdles and overcome them as planning goes along, gaining confidence in the process.
“The best thing for me is watching them believe in themselves, and learn that they can accomplish their project,” Daria said.
At the end of the project, Daria also makes the students put their efforts into something tangible so that they can connect the work they have done to actual results within the community. Through the Secret Meals program, it costs $140 to feed a child every weekend for the entire school year. Daria has her students translate the total money they raised into a talking point using that fact.
Daria said, “At the end of the class, they’re able to say, ‘because of my ideas, 14 children will be fed in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.’ It is incredible; it’s probably the most gratifying thing I have done in terms of being an educator.”
The Concepting and Implementation class has raised $280,603.64 for Secret Meals For Hungry Children to date. Daria envisions the class efforts will keep growing and has set a goal for the future with that in mind.
Daria said, “I would like to hit $300,000 fundraised before I retire. That has always seemed like such a distant goal, but now we are getting close.”