For many University of Wisconsin students, the holiday spirit has translated into efforts to team up with local food pantries and combat the growing problem of hunger in the Madison area.

In conjunction with the NBC-15 Share Your Holidays Food Drive, the UW Visitor & Information Programs teamed up with #UWSocial, a campus social media community, and local hunger relief charity Second Harvest to bring a food drive to Union South.

The food drive addressed the ever-growing hunger problem in southern Wisconsin, according to Second Harvest Communications Manager Kris Tazelaar.

The event provided students with two incentives – the feeling of giving back and the chance to win private box seats for a Dec. 31 home Badger basketball game if they donate three or more items.

Tazelaar said with the help of food drives like UW’s and extensive volunteer efforts, Second Harvest provides food to over 141,000 people every year, 43 percent of whom are children.

“What we do is help provide food for them in the instances when they may be short that last week of the month or when they’re struggling with the mortgage and insurance,” he said. “We’re able to help them in those hard times.”

Tazelaar added the “giving spirit” created by the holiday time of year makes late November and December the perfect time of year to jump-start efforts.

“Hunger is a year-round thing, but the awareness and giving spirit and people being willing to give of themselves is heightened during the holiday season,” he said.

Nick Gonzales, assistant director of the UW VIP, said UW chose to partner with Second Harvest to give students an opportunity to give back to their community and reach out to others.

He said in a time when 40,000 people go hungry in Wisconsin annually, students should be provided with ample opportunity to give their time and money and “prove that this campus does care.”

Tazelaar said students can help by donating their food, money and time to Second Harvest and comparable organizations.

“Interestingly enough, money is the most helpful,” he said. “With our buying power and relationships with food manufacturers, we can turn a dollar into three meals. Food pantries, however, do always need volunteers.”

#UWSocial is also asking students to build hunger awareness and mobilize fellow students by using social media, according to a joint statement released by VIP and #UWSocial.
Gonzales said social media outlets, particularly Twitter, are being used to get students involved in the movement to fight local hunger.

“This is a great opportunity to engage and reach out to students,” he said. “UW has such an active and engaged social media community. We can use social media to promote the event and engage students in the cause.”

While UW and Second Harvest’s goal was to top the 872 pounds of food collected at last year’s drive – a number equivalent to 725 meals for hungry families – both parties agreed a campus as large as UW poses endless possibilities.

Students looking to get involved can join the social media campaign, contact Second Harvest directly or donate to Second Harvest or another comparable organization online.