Vanderbilt sophomores create program to donate portion of student meal plan to feed Nashville’s hungry

Mac Muir (left) and Will McCollum (Joe Howell/Vanderbilt)
Mac Muir (left) and Will McCollum (Joe Howell/Vanderbilt)

Several thousand people in the Nashville community will be less hungry this holiday season, thanks to two Vanderbilt University students who have teamed with Vanderbilt Dining for an innovative initiative to combat hunger in Middle Tennessee.

Sophomore Mac Muir, from Poolesville, Md., and sophomore Will McCollum, from Birmingham, Ala., wanted to use a portion of the student meal plan to benefit Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee.

Muir and McCollum proposed Share-a-Side, in which patrons at The Commons Dining Center on Vanderbilt’s campus can forgo picking up a second side item with their meal in favor of donating its value to Second Harvest.

“At Vanderbilt we put a lot of effort into the quality of the food, and we encourage students to compile a complete meal during a dining experience,” Camp Howard, director of dining services, said, noting that an entrée, two side items and a drink constitute a “meal” when it is rung up by a cashier. The brilliance of Share-a-Side, he said, is that it doesn’t compromise the nutritional integrity of a meal, while also simplifying the donation process.

Those who wish to participate in Share-a-Side pick up a wooden nickel instead of a second side item; the cashier rings up its value; and the nickels are deposited into a collection jar. Vanderbilt makes a donation to Second Harvest in the amount of the collected nickels. And because Second Harvest is able to maximize the funds it receives, one donated side item from Vanderbilt is equivalent to one Second Harvest meal for a hungry member of the community.

“[rquote]The beauty of Share-a-Side is that it gives students the chance to serve even in the ordinariness of their everyday schedule,” Muir said.[/rquote]

“It’s a way to shed light on an important issue in a really simple way,” McCollum added. “The tangible nature of dropping the nickel into the container seems to resonate with people. Students understand that their simple act can make a real difference in the community.”

Howard said that over the years, he has encountered his share of students who want to reallocate money from the meal plan to benefit various campus organizations and causes. “One of the most interesting things about Mac and Will’s initiative, however, was that it wasn’t tied to any specific organization,” Howard said. “These are just two students who had an idea and wanted to do something good.”

Share-a-Side received a trial run at The Commons Dining Center last April. The current program, which is expected to provide several thousand meals to members of the community, runs through Dec. 15.