TRAVERSE CITY — Northwestern Michigan College instructor Kristy McDonald’s professional communications students aimed to help 125 families through this year’s Food for Thought project.

Instead, the class exceeded its goal, collecting enough items to fill about 133 boxes. McDonald said 83 go to NMC students and another 50 are for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Michigan. They asked students to apply if they were in need.

“The community response and business partnerships have been so amazing,” McDonald said.

NMC student and marketing team member Rachel Hollow said they asked area businesses to donate money or food items. They received canned vegetable, gravy, turkey, butter and more — all the necessary ingredients for Thanksgiving dinner.

The students will put items into boxes and distribute them throughout the day Nov. 22. Each box aims to feed six people, Hollow said.

Cecilia Chesney, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters, said it is “so satisfying” to get meals to people in need.

“We’re so intimately connected to our parents and families,” Chesney said. “There’s so much need — so much critical, essential needs.”

Plus, she said, the Bigs staff enjoys participating in this community event. Chesney said it brings together generous community donors and passionate young people who are invested in their cause.

“We’re so thankful to be able to help through the students at NMC,” she said. “It’s a stress reliever. We worry about these families.”

The Food for Thought project not only helps the community, McDonald said, but also the students. She explained her class follows an experiential learning model, meaning students gain skills like leadership, philanthropy and more. This “real-life project,” McDonald said, includes working with a budget and local businesses.

“I try to make sure the class is supporting something around education and learning,” she said. “It teaches the whole person instead of a specific area. They learn through doing and reflection.”

Hollow said she has heard stories of people who need food assistance, and she is glad the project can help. She added that McDonald was a “big influence” in teaching her about “food insecure families,” something she previously did not know much about.

This is the eighth year for the project. McDonald said unfortunately they skipped last year because of COVID-19.

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