Alexandra Wills prefers to eat local. She grows her own vegetables, snacks on honey from area hives and buys angus beef raised just a few miles down the road at the Austin Peay State University Farm. Every spring, when the APSU Department of Agriculture advertises its beef program sale, Wills is always one of the first to place an order.
“It’s really good, and I can taste the difference,” she said. “We even bought a little chest freezer to hold it.”
Wills, director of Austin Peay’s Center for Service-Learning and Community Engagement, actually makes two purchases – one for her home and one for the center’s Save Our Students (SOS) Food Pantry. The center established the SOS Food Pantry in 2011 to support students and their families during times of financial hardship through weekly visits.
For the food pantry, Wills used financial donations made to the center to purchase half a steer, but earlier this summer, she learned she was getting an extra 500 pounds of beef to help feed University students afflicted with food insecurities.
“We had a steer, born and raised just four miles from campus, and half of it we couldn’t sell,” Dr. Rod Mills, associate professor of agriculture, said. “So I called the food pantry and said, ‘Do you have enough freezer space for a whole steer?’”
Wills tried to hide her excitement about the donation. In recent months, the shelves had run low on hearty meal options.
“We can feed people ramen noodles and canned green beans all day, but it’s not a source of protein,” she said. “Protein is really expensive, but it’s one of the most valuable pieces of nutrition. When Rod called, I was like, ‘Please yes!’”
Every fall, the food pantry, which serves about 400 people annually, receives venison donations from local hunters, but this protein supply goes quickly.
“Four hundred pounds of ground venison lasts us a couple of months, unless it gets really busy, and then that meat doesn’t last us as long,” Wills said. “The beef program will give us roasts, ground beef, steaks and bones (for soup) to add variety.”
For Mills, doubling the food pantry’s order was a no-brainer. He viewed the gift as a way of improving student success at Austin Peay.
“You can’t have academic success if you have food insecurity,” he said.
In 2016, Austin Peay President Alisa White made a personal donation to the University’s Beef Show Team as a way of encouraging others to support the program. Her gift allowed the team to raise several generations of grass-fed, angus steers at the University’s farm.
Anyone interested in donating to the food pantry should contact Wills at email@example.com.