CSU’s Community Alliance for Education and Hunger Relief receives Community Engagement award

According to nonprofit Hunger Free Colorado, roughly one in seven Colorado children may not always know when or where they’ll get their next meal. That’s a problem Amanda McQuade of Colorado State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences is trying to eliminate. Through her Community Alliance for Education and Hunger Relief – which recently received the Emerging CSU Community Engagement Award for its work with local food banks and underserved neighborhoods in Mesa County – McQuade wants to cut down on food insecurity while providing a series of educational programs to better connect people to the food they eat.

The award is given annually by the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President and the Office of Engagement in recognition of a relatively new initiative that has shown potential for long-term impact, achievement and scholarship. It was presented to McQuade during a ceremony earlier this month.

Leveraging CSU and partners to fill food banks

Launched in 2017, the Alliance aims to increase the amount of high-quality fruits and vegetables available to those facing food insecurity in Mesa County and throughout Colorado. As part of CSU’s Agricultural Experimental Stations and University Extension, the Alliance is uniquely positioned to help put produce in the hands of those in need, while leveraging the university’s extension arm to enrich the community educationally.

“I think the number one misconception people have about food banks is that they don’t want fresh produce,” says McQuade. “We’re all so programmed to think of canned food because of those food drives.”

Peach harvest in Orchard Mesa

The Alliance was born from a years-long volunteer effort by McQuade, who would often glean backyard produce to donate to local food banks. This caught the attention of staff at the Orchard Mesa Research Station, which began donating produce such as peaches to McQuade’s efforts. That relationship grew, with the station eventually donating all of their produce each harvest.

In 2016, McQuade accepted a position at the station and the Alliance was formed. The Alliance now partners with organizations such as Food Bank of the Rockies, Mesa Valley County School District 51 and Western Colorado Community College to increase its impact. Additionally, the Alliance brings in fundraising partners to help finance the production of produce, and recently surpassed $100,000 in total donations.

“Dr. McQuade and her colleagues have developed an innovative new food resource that significantly increases the amount of fresh produce made available to meet the needs of low-income communities,” notes Eugene Kelly, deputy director of the Colorado Agricultural Experimental Stations. “The project has accomplished this through an innovative partnership between educational institutions that will grow the food, the community that harvests the food, private sector buyers that will help support food production through purchases, and hunger relief agencies that distribute the food and guide the type of food to be grown.”

Expanding programing and goals

With the award comes a $1,000 prize, which McQuade has earmarked for education.

“[That money] goes a really long way for educational supplies,” says McQuade. “It’s really needed.”

This year, McQuade is rolling out a new pilot educational program in partnership with the local school district. The Alliance will follow the district’s Lunch Lizard Mobile Summer Food Program, which serves free lunches to children in underserved neighborhoods, and provide educational enrichment opportunities at each stop. As for more long-term developments, McQuade is currently applying for a USDA grant that could increase the Alliance’s footprint to four locations throughout the valley.

“That’s our attempt to bring the farm to where people are,” she notes.

About the Community Engagement Scholarship Awards

The Community Engagement Scholarship Awards are an initiative of the Provost’s Council for Engagement, jointly established by the Office of the Provost & Executive Vice President and the Office of Engagement. The Council was formed to advance the practice and recognition of engaged scholarship at CSU.