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20 tons of spuds headed to WU

by Luanne Williams

Picture that 10-pound bag of potatoes that takes up half your grocery cart being multiplied by 4,000. That’s the 20-ton mountain of “unsellable” spuds that will be delivered to Wingate University next month and, within a few hours, bagged and distributed to area families in need.

“I cannot picture 40,000 pounds of potatoes in my head,” says junior Katie Williams, who is heading up the potato drop. “I will just be in awe when I see it.”

Although she can’t wrap her head around the magnitude of the project, the concept behind it has stirred her heart.

“When Dr. (Catherine) Wright told me about it, I fell in love with the idea of it: potatoes being rescued, making this sustainable, helping us see how much food is wasted,” says Williams, a resident of Calabash, North Carolina, and president of a student organization called Bulldogs Into Going Green.

An assistant professor of religion, Wright is equally excited to make the potato drop part of the community service planned for the University’s April 12 One Day, One Dog event.

“These potatoes are perfectly tasty, but they are imperfect looking and unsellable, so they were destined for the landfill, where they contribute to methane, which hurts our climate,” Wright explains. “Society of St. Andrew saved these potatoes and are shipping them to us so we can feed our hungry neighbors.”

The project aligns with the University’s growing sustainability initiative and is a prime example of the waste-reduction efforts promoted by nationally known social entrepreneur Ben Simon, the CEO of Imperfect Produce, who spoke at the University last March.

The large bags will go to the elderly, shut-ins, low-income families and those without access to fresh food. The smaller ones will be reserved for students in nearby Title 1 schools. Each bag will include a card with an idea of how to turn the ugly spuds into a tasty dish.

“The two main reasons people don’t have access to fresh, healthy produce are that it’s too expensive or not available in nearby stores and that they do not know how to prepare fresh produce,” Wright says. “We are solving both problems with this service project.”

Huge response

From left, Catherine Wright, Tripp Wright and Katie Williams show off some of the thousands of mesh bags prepped this month for Wingate’s April 12 potato drop, when 40,000 pounds of produce will be bagged and delivered to local families in need. The event is part of One Day, One Dog.

Organizers estimate that nearly 1,000 volunteers will be involved in the potato drop. While one group bags potatoes at the football field, another will be hand-writing recipes — one for a hot dish and another for a cold potato salad, both chosen with affordability in mind — onto cards at the Ethel K. Smith Library. Kory Paulus, reference and instruction librarian, says students will be invited to add their own personal message of encouragement on the cards.

Williams has already been encouraged by the student and faculty response to the project.

“We’ve been putting out information about the potato drop as much as we can,” she says. “We had what we called March Madness in the Dickson-Palmer Center, where we made the bags we are going to put the potatoes in. I had no idea what to expect when Dr. Wright send out an email to professors.”

She said that by 8 a.m. that day, when BIGG members began rolling out the red mesh tubing to be cut and tied into bags, 40 students had already shown up.

“By 9 a.m., we already had more than a thousand bags made, and we made 6,000 by one o’clock that afternoon,” she says. “There was a lot of excitement. I feel like it will be the same when we start bagging the potatoes.”

Williams, who is double-majoring in religious studies and communications, says she can’t wait to see the bagged potatoes and recipe cards headed out to shelters, food ministries and other local organizations. Among area groups that will help get the produce to those in need are Heart for Monroe, Solace Center, New Covenant Baptist food pantry, Amazing Grace Ministry, Loaves and Fishes Pantry, Operation Reach Out, Feed 500 Program, Home Again Program, Union County Community Shelter, Waxhaw Food Pantry, Seventh Day Adventist Ministry, House of Pearls, Marshville United Methodist and Union County Public Schools.

While the potatoes go to local residents, a separate One Day, One Dog effort planned for Wingate’s Cuddy Arena will help provide meals overseas. Roughly 40 volunteers will work to package 10,000 meals through the nonprofit Rise Against Hunger.

“We have done this project before as part of our orientation with our first-year students and we got resounding feedback, so we’re excited to offer it again,” says Marisa Ciesluk, dean of academic enrichment programs.

Set for 10 a.m. to noon on April 12, the hunger-fighting efforts at Wingate University are among a dozen service projects planned as part of the University’s annual One Day, One Dog event, during which students, alumni, employees and supporters are invited to give, serve and celebrate. For more details, visit www.onedayonedog.org.

March 23, 2018