Several UGA student organizations rally for hunger relief in Northeast Georgia

From the WRBL Internship Assignment Desk

This story was produced as part of the WRBL 2020 Summer Intern program

COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL)– When rising University of Georgia junior Connor Giresi was out of school due to the University System of Georgia’s temporary suspension of classes in March, he wondered what he could do to help those in need.

Giresi is an executive board member of Shopping With A Bulldog (SWAB), a UGA student-run organization dedicated to giving back to the community of Athens-Clarke County around the holidays. During SWAB’s busy fall semesters, Giresi said that they immediately started wondering about what to do for spring and summer.

“So many kids are going to need supplies. So many kids are going to need SWAB’s mission over the summer. It’s not just a holiday thing. What we do extends to so much more than just that,” Giresi said.

When COVID-19 shutdowns in Georgia began to hit, Giresi and Emily Thomann, also on the SWAB executive board, began to brainstorm how to give back during the time. After settling on the idea of a fundraiser, they wondered how to pack a bigger punch with their efforts.

“Emily and I discussed this from a SWAB standpoint and said ‘What’s the one organization on campus that number one, will do this, and number two, will make this bigger with us?’” Giresi said.

Giresi and Thomann reached out to UGA Food2Kids, a student-run organization that focuses on aiding food insecurity in the community of Athens-Clarke County, and learned that both organizations had similar ideas and hit the ground running.

“That was something so beautiful about it. Not the right place, right time, but it was very much correlating values going together,” Giresi said.

In April, SWAB and Food2Kids launched their collaborative campaign Pandemic Relief: Bulldawgs Against Hunger on Instagram, Facebook, and their website. In an effort to help reduce food insecurity in the Athens community, the campaign served to raise awareness and take donations for the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia from April 20 until May 8.

The campaign took social media by storm after SWAB and Food2Kids partnered with more than 30 different UGA student organizations to bring more visibility to the fundraiser. Along with student organizations, the campaign also partnered with a few small businesses in the Athens area, such as Fuel Hot Yoga and University Tees.

Fellow UGA Student Emma Surber runs her small business under the Instagram handle @es.dyes. On the first day of the Bulldawgs Against Hunger campaign, she reached out to partner and was later featured on the campaign’s Instagram.

“There was this girl named Emma,” Giresi said. “She was fundraising for the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia on her own. She was tie-dying sweatshirts by hand and shipping them out, charging $30 and that $30 went to the food bank.”

“The next day she called us and was like ‘I can’t do this. I have way too many orders!’” Giresi said. “She isn’t involved in the organization. It was one of those things where she reached out to us and wanted to work together.”

Even though the campaign had a great run, there were concerns about its success. The campaign was active at the same time of spring semester final exams, which made the student organizers even more busy. 

“The biggest constraint was purely that it was during finals week and we all had so much stuff that was constantly due every day,” Giresi said. “I was especially adamant about the fact that I didn’t want to wait until after classes were done because people wouldn’t be in UGA mode.”

Despite all the difficulties, Giresi and the rest of the campaign board were able to partner with several student organizations to help raise funds and awareness of food insecurity in Northeast Georgia.

“We wanted it to be UGA students coming together,” Giresi said. “We wanted to show that just because you’re on a different executive board in a different club, it doesn’t mean that we can’t work together. It doesn’t mean that you have to sign up for something else to work together.”

Combining efforts showed to be a great plan when a grand total of 33,720 meals were raised for the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia. The fundraisers did not set a monetary goal because they wanted to give anything they could and remember the reasons for giving.

“With one dollar equaling four meals at the food bank, we knew that no matter how much we would raise, it would still be multiplied by four and we would still be so excited by that number,” Giresi said. “And our other goal was to get UGA kids to realize we could all work together.”

Following a successful spring semester, Giresi has a remote internship, classes, and a part time job this summer. Even while working hard, he’s planning his next moves for the fall.

“I’m just excited for the future. I have a lot of fun things that I really want to do, ” Giresi said. “I work in the [UGA] Center for Student Activities and Involvement, which just merged with the Center for Leadership and Success. I want to start a program within it that is a philanthropy-wide board, giving each other the opportunity to participate in one another’s organization.”

On the note of cooperative participation, Giresi shared one more takeaway from the campaign that carries on the meaning of service.

“Take out what’s going on right now in this world,” Giresi said. “Take out everything that’s happening with COVID-19, and how everyone feels about the government’s response to this. Everyone participating in organizations understands the importance of humanity. They understand the importance of service. They understand this goal of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

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