Interfaith Group Takes Aim on Area Hunger

July 26, 2011

A call from the White House this spring for students and scholars to join the first President’s Interfaith Community Service Campus Challenge elicited hundreds of applications. Mary Baldwin University was selected to participate in the inaugural year of the program, launching a project that will unite people of diverse faiths to address one of the Staunton area’s most serious social issues: food insecurity.

“I believe that a commitment to faith includes a commitment to community and that when we put our multiple expressions of faith into action together, positive changes can result,” said new Mary Baldwin University Chaplain Katie Low, who also serves as assistant professor of religion and was part of the team that drafted the college’s Interfaith Campus Challenge plan. Other key members of the Mary Baldwin group include Logan Dill ’11, Nusayba Hammad ’13, Shannon Harris ’12, Tiara Hines ’13, Audra Powell ’13, Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion Ken Beals, and AmeriCorps VISTA representative Robyn Stegman ’09.

Low and Powell will attend a kick-off conference and celebration at the White House August 3.

In her role as VISTA volunteer at Mary Baldwin during the 2010–11 academic year, Stegman employed an array of programs and grants to direct resources toward alleviating food insecurity in the area, a carryover from work she did while serving with the same organization in Detroit right after graduation. The Interfaith Campus Challenge will build on and overlap with many initiatives already in the works and includes creating an Interfaith Advisory Committee, an idea that emerged after Stegman and Laura Kleiner ’11 attended a faith-based leadership institute in 2010.

“Mary Baldwin’s Quest interfaith exploration program and the Spencer Center for Civic and
Global Engagement provide an ideal environment for interfaith ideas to flourish,” said Stegman.

Since the Interfaith Campus Challenge does not include funding, it will be supported in part by a recent grant Stegman secured from Youth Serve America and the Sodexo Foundation. Additional elements of the program outlined by the Mary Baldwin group include training student leaders to help grow the initiative; creating new partnerships in the community to address food insecurity; organizing an alternative Spring Break service trip; hosting a Food and Faith Film Series; and incorporating food insecurity discussions into Muslim Awareness Week and the course Faith, Life, and Service.

Interfaith collaboration will be highlighted during four service projects already observed at Mary Baldwin: Apple Day, Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, and International Woman’s Day of Service. The group’s goals are to engage at least 50 people in those projects and to reach more than 100 through interfaith programs throughout the academic year.