You know what they say about Emerson Board Bucks, the on-campus currency for food: You can’t take it with you.
So for the last three years, rather than donating unused Board Bucks back to dining services vendor Sodexo at the end of the school year, a group of students has organized a drive to spend their leftover Bucks at three campus stores and donate the food to the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB).
The first year, the students collected between 400-500 pounds of food. Last week, Emerson students donated roughly 2,000 pounds of edibles to GBFB partner Boston Rescue Mission, who had to make two trips with a van to haul it away.
“This year, the people picking up the donation said it was the biggest one they had ever seen from a non-corporate entity,” said Nathan Magnuski, assistant director of the Office of Student Success (OSS).
The program, Board Bucks for Boston, is the brainchild of rising seniors Jonathan Mendoza and Christine Lavosky. Mendoza, who has since transferred to Berklee College of Music but still takes courses at Emerson, said developed the idea as a pitch for his Speech and Communication class, and began collecting donations in his dorm room – a plan with obvious drawbacks. He put out a call for help on Facebook, and one of the students who responded was Lavosky, who came up with the same basic idea for a civic engagement project in her Writing and Research class.
“I’ve always been passionate about activism and community organizing in any capacity,” said Mendoza, who is majoring in a self-directed study of professional music with a focus on social advocacy. “And also recognizing the resources we have at Emerson, recognizing the scarcity around us in Boston, and trying to hold those in check.”
Students were asked to spend their Board Bucks at The Max in Piano Row, the C-Store in the Little Building, and Paramount Café and deposit their purchases into boxes which were periodically shuttled to an open office at OSS.
“It was really fun to see how full the room was getting,” Magnuski said.
Of course, these are college students doing the shopping.
“You see everything from protein bars to cases of Red Bull. Some of it is not that nutritious, but you see everything,” he said. “We don’t turn food away.”
In past years, Bucks for Boston has donated food directly to GBFB, but this year, the food bank hooked them up with Boston Rescue Mission, which provides homeless people with food, health care, counseling, and job training.
Eric Grenfell-Muir, manager of information for the Boston Rescue Mission, said food donations are used as part of six meal services per day, including outreach on Boston Common on Saturdays. More food is distributed in the organization’s biweekly food pantry, which helps families who are forced to choose between food, rent, utilities, and medical bills, he said.
“We’re so grateful to Christine, Jonathan, Brittany [Korn], Nathan, and Emerson College students for all of their service collecting food for hungry, homeless, and needy women and men in greater Boston!” Grenfell-Muir said in a statement.
The students were so impressed with the organization that they want to get more involved next year through volunteer work, Lavosky said.
There were other differences this year, as well. Because Lavosky and Mendoza lived off campus, they couldn’t get into the residence halls to put out boxes to collect food from dorm clean-outs.
But the losses there were more than compensated for by the help of the Emerson Peace and Social Justice group, which provided volunteers and box decoration skills. Lavosky also credited Sodexo’s new Emerson manager, Kerrianne Donnelly, who let the students keep the boxes out a full two weeks longer than the last manager, and even ordered extra food for the C-Store so students would have a bigger end-of-year selection to choose from.
Rising junior Brittany Korn came on board this year to help lead the project, and will take over once Lavosky and Mendoza graduate. But they’re already looking for volunteers and people interested in getting more involved next year.
And they have “grand plans” for the future.
“We want to expand the program to other schools,” she said. “I think it could definitely work at other schools, it’s just a matter of getting our own method down.”
For more information, or to get involved, visit the Board Bucks for Boston Facebook page.