As chair of the Integrative Studies Department, Marjorie Allen wanted a way to bring together academic disciplines with a unified purpose—one that would involve interdisciplinary programs and courses, academic research and publication, and participation from students as well as faculty. In an area that was previously one of the largest food deserts in Philadelphia, hunger seemed a worthy cause.

With the launch of the Exploring Nutrition Initiative this past year, her vision became a reality. Her initial idea was to look at the impact of The Fresh Grocer supermarket in meeting the neighborhood’s nutritional needs and improving access to healthy food. When she recruited the help of recent graduate Tom Wingert, ’12, who now also works in the Integrative Studies Department, the plan evolved—through this initiative, they wanted to build a model that other urban universities could follow.

Their mission: to have a positive impact on the neighborhood’s health and nutritional well-being by pooling their collective resources and expertise through a partnership with local businesses, community organizations, and religious institutions. Just barely over a year old, Exploring Nutrition has already proven to be a huge success. The third annual Easter Food Drive in March proved to be the perfect opportunity to touch upon all of those goals.

Students in the Leadership and Global Understanding program played a direct role in community outreach, fundraising, and service delivery, and students in an online journalism class covered the food drive using a variety of media. One of the social work classes helped to publicize the food drive on and off-campus by creating and distributing placards around La Salle’s campus and by writing letters to local and state politicians. And students from the Academic Discovery and Summit Programs were the primary force behind the sorting of produce for delivery.

The hours of planning, organizing, and hard labor paid off. Nearly 80 La Salle students, faculty, and staff members collected 3,600 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables, which they distributed among 15 community partners, feeding more than 2,000 people. They raised more than $5,000 through contributions and various fundraisers, with generous help from The Fresh Grocer and Beneficial Bank.

Now in its second year, Exploring Nutrition continues to develop projects and engage in community outreach to strengthen those bonds and integrate La Salle into the hunger-alleviation network of the Germantown, Olney, and Logan neighborhoods of Philadelphia. “My hope is ultimately that we’re creating a model to engage all sectors of civic society in addressing one particular problem—in this case, hunger,” Wingert said.