KEARNEY – The University of Nebraska at Kearney Athletic Department teamed up with the Kearney-area community Friday to support Lopers during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
UNK Athletics launched its “Lopers Love to Help” initiative to ensure the campus food pantry, Big Blue Cupboard, can continue serving students and employees in need.
“In these challenging times, we have an obligation to be leaders on campus by serving others,” said UNK Athletic Director Marc Bauer. “Supporting the Big Blue Cupboard is an opportunity for the athletic department to make a difference during this crisis.”
On Friday morning, UNK coaches and athletic department staff spread out across the community to collect items for Big Blue Cupboard.
The food drive included drop-off sites outside Five Points Bank, Cunningham’s Journal on the Bricks, UNK’s Health and Sports Center and Hy-Vee, where staff from KRVN Radio joined the effort. No-contact residential pickup was also available for people who wanted to leave items on their front steps or porch.
Bundled up in a winter coat, stocking cap and face mask, UNK head women’s tennis coach Scott Shafer was part of the team braving the blustery weather to fill KRVN’s “Riverado” pickup truck in the Hy-Vee parking lot.
“It’s important for us to be here right now,” Shafer said. “This is one small thing we can do to help out.”
Head softball coach Katie Ackermann agreed, saying the Kearney and campus communities must stick together during this difficult period.
Area residents did their part by donating enough items to fill three pickup truck beds.
“It’s awesome to see how many community members support UNK and want to help us during a time of need,” Ackermann said.
Located in the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion on the first floor of the Nebraskan Student Union, Big Blue Cupboard provides UNK students and employees with perishable and nonperishable food items and personal hygiene products. The service is free and confidential.
With many people facing unprecedented challenges because of the COVID-19 virus, the need for the food pantry is greater than ever.
In March and April, Big Blue Cupboard distributed more than 2,300 items and recorded about 500 individual visits.
“At UNK, we believe hunger should not hinder anyone’s access to education. Now is the time for us to look after those on our campus who are most vulnerable and in need,” said Luis Olivas, diversity recruitment and leadership coordinator in the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion.
“I truly appreciate the efforts of the athletic department and their leadership team,” Olivas added. “Their willingness to organize this food drive is a perfect example of what it means to be a Loper.”
Chancellor Doug Kristensen allocated an additional $10,000 to Big Blue Cupboard in March, allowing the food pantry to add a second freezer to store more TV dinners and other frozen items people can prepare quickly and easily in a microwave. This funding also allows UNK staff to shop at local stores for high-demand and perishable items.
Additionally, UNK and the University of Nebraska Foundation launched a special, limited-time crowdfunding campaign to help Big Blue Cupboard as part of Giving Tuesday Now, a global day of giving and unity created as an emergency response to COVID-19.
Supporters have contributed more than $5,500 to the campaign, which continues through May at nufoundation.org/bigbluecupboard, and Builders in Kearney donated a new refrigerator to store perishable items. Financial gifts will be used to stock the food pantry in the months ahead.
Big Blue Cupboard will remain open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays until further notice. UNK students and employees can access the food pantry using their university IDs.