Hunger, and the poverty that often causes it, has long been perceived as a third-world problem. Yet widespread unemployment and rising food costs are just part of the cause for an epidemic here in the United States. For example, last year the Poverty Research Institute reported that one out of every five New Jersey families did not earn enough to afford basic necessities such as food, housing and child care, even though 85 percent of these families have at least one working family member. Statistics like these led Rutgers University to establish Rutgers Against Hunger (RAH) in 2008 – and Barnes & Noble College is a valuable ally in the fight.
This spring marked the sixth annual semester fund drive hosted by the bookstore’s New Brunswick and Piscataway campus locations. “We’ve helped with the RAH fund-raiser for both Winter and Fall rush,” explains Len Oser, General Manager at the Barnes & Noble at Rutgers Bookstore. “And it’s a tradition that really keeps building for us.”
Students are encouraged to donate a dollar when checking out with their textbooks in a program that is also promoted on the bookstore Facebook page and through signage throughout the store. “Many of our students are not shy about donating to causes they believe in, and in many cases, it’s more than a dollar,” Oser says. A single dollar donation raised throughout the one-month fund drive can provide up to eight meals at a local food bank, and donors receive a bookmark thanking them for their contributions.
Visitors to the Barnes & Noble Café can also make donations. “We ask anyone who’d like to make a donation to consider a contribution to RAH because it is such a worthy cause,” Oser points out. Since its inception, RAH has collected over 124,000 pounds of food and raised approximately $136,000 for food banks and pantries statewide. Through a partnership with the New Jersey Federation of Food Banks, Rutgers’ contributions are put to work at over 1,500 local pantries throughout the state.
The Rutgers University Bookstore fundraising campaign has raised over $15,000 for Rutgers Against Hunger, an amount that doesn’t surprise Oser. “Our student population is very giving,” he explains. That interest in helping other people is also evidenced by the involvement of students and bookstore staff alike in support of another important charity, Habitat for Humanity. “Through our support of programs like RAH and Habitat for Humanity, we hope we’re helping make a connection with the campus by supporting something they’re interested in,” Oser says. “They give us the reason to be on campus, and whenever we have the opportunity to give something back, we’re going to do it.”