When Mitzi Howard heard that the Naveen Jindal School of Management was hosting an alumni community service event for the North Texas Food Bank, it hit especially close to home. As a child, the UT Dallas alumna and her family sometimes had to rely on food pantries for their next meal.
“A lot of our community members are working poor, and if we don’t give back to them, who will?” Howard, a School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences BS’04 graduate, said as she packed boxes with canned goods alongside her two teenage daughters.
“Taking a few moments out of your busy schedule to gather with alumni and give back to the community is one of the best feelings you can possibly have,” she said.
Howard joined more than 70 Jindal School alumni on Oct. 13 at the first UT Dallas Alumni Day of Service. The event took place at North Texas Food Bank’s new Perot Family Campus in Plano, a sprawling facility which, coincidentally, was built on land formerly owned by UT Dallas.
Cody Meyers, the Jindal School’s assistant director of alumni relations, said the school’s new requirement that undergrads must perform 100 hours of community service before graduating inspired the event.
“We want to train students to really follow through after graduation and become not just business leaders, but community leaders,” Meyers said. “At some alumni events, you only see people with their ‘I’m-here-to-network’ faces on. But something like this is very altruistic. People are getting passionate about being charitable, and it shines a whole different light on them.”
Erica Yaeger, chief external affairs officer for the North Texas Food Bank, has a unique view on how events like this one benefit both the community and UT Dallas. Before joining the food bank in early 2018, Yaeger, a Jindal School MBA’02 alumna, led the Jindal School’s development and alumni relations team.
“It’s especially important for business students to understand the impact that businesses can have on social issues when they partner with nonprofits,” Yaeger said. “The food bank will be distributing 74 million nutritious meals this year, but in order to do that, we rely heavily on volunteers and organizations. I was really touched to see UT Dallas alumni come together to help our mission of closing the hunger gap in North Texas.”
Volunteering is not strictly a humanitarian effort, Yeager said. “Business leaders also see the importance of having a strong economic landscape in your community. When you have people who are hungry, it affects many things, including your potential workforce.”
Jindal School alumni spent the morning at the food bank sorting cans of vegetables and beans and other items that supermarkets and companies had donated. After putting 40 pounds of food into small boxes, they taped them shut and stacked them on pallets to be shipped to food pantries all around North Texas.
Volunteers, too, got a nutritional boost for their efforts with a boxed lunch of sandwich, chips, cookies and a bottle of water that Central Market provided.
“Hunger affects people even in places we might perceive to be affluent, like Plano and Richardson,” Meyers said. “We have our own food pantry on campus, the Comet Cupboard, for students who are having a hard time making ends meet.”
Several alumni brought their children to the North Texas Food Bank volunteer session. Jim Tokarz, MBA’98, worked side by side with his 14-year-old daughter Taryn, who had told her dad she wanted to volunteer at the food bank even before the UT Dallas event was scheduled.
“It was fortuitous, but I’m glad my daughter pushed us to help,” he said. “Every day you hear stories about people in your own neighborhood who need help … there’s no excuse not to volunteer.”
“We have an excess of food in this country — it’s just a matter of logistics, of boxing it up and sending it off to the people who need it,” said John Robinson, BS’13, MS’16, who was working alongside the Tokarzes.
Robinson said the event gave him the chance to think about those who are less fortunate than him — and, at the same time, it helped boost his own self-worth, he said.
“Doing something to help people makes you feel good about yourself,” he said, adding that he shared his experience on social media, with positive results. “I just put a picture on Facebook and got 50 likes in 15 minutes.”
Celia Aragon, BS’03, said she volunteers regularly all around her community, but she was particularly happy to work alongside other UT Dallas alumni at the North Texas Food Bank.
“An event like this is a good opportunity for UTD to identify itself as a part of the bigger community in Dallas and North Texas community,” said Aragon, whose son David Aragon is attending UT Dallas.
“I want to show my son ‘This is what you do as an alum,’” she said. “You stay active and don’t forget about your school: Your community needs you, and your school needs you, too.”
— T.D. Christensen