Giving and Getting: Building Reciprocal Relationships to Fight Hunger

Mark Dochterman, director – UIS Volunteer & Civic Engagement Center, University of Illinois Springfield

November 28, 2017

In 2014, Feeding America reported that one in five children in Illinois faced food insecurity. More current information from the Illinois Commission to End Hunger suggests that food insecurity in general, and college student food insecurity specifically, has spiked in recent years.

Over the past decade, the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) has become a significant food donor, a weekly volunteer provider, a mobile pantry sponsor, and most recently a client, of the Central Illinois Foodbank (the Foodbank). This 360-degree relationship has created opportunities for students, staff, and community members to both contribute to and benefit from the collective effort to address the shared problem of food insecurity in Central Illinois.  This reciprocal partnership is rooted in the following best practices and guiding principles effectively described by Tinkler, Tinkler, Hausman, and Tufo-Strouse (2014):

1. Be attentive to the community partner’s mission and vision

2. Understand the human dimension of the community partner’s work

3. Be mindful of the community partner’s resources

4. Accept and share the responsibility for inefficiencies

5. Consider the legacy of the partnership

6. Regard process as important

The UIS Volunteer and Civic Engagement Center (the Center) recently raised 29,500 pounds of food for the Foodbank through the annual Trick or Treat for Canned Goods drive. The event follows a similar format to the Boy Scouts’ Scouting for Food and the USPS’s Stamp out Hunger. 2017 marked the ninth annual Trick or Treat for Canned Goods drive, which is currently among the largest single collections in the region. This initial project was rooted in an understanding of the Foodbank’s fundamental need for food in 2008. Since that time, the Foodbank has moved to a new facility, has new levels of volunteer needs, and has evolved its vision to include the notions of client dignity and client education. Over time, through this partnership, we have extended our initial relationship to address these growing initiatives.

In 2014, the Center launched a series of five weekly projects led by student-staff. One of these projects, the Central Illinois Foodbank Weekly Sort, involves taking a group of volunteers to the Foodbank each week to sort donations. In 2015, UIS accounted for the most volunteer hours at the Foodbank from a single organization. Through this effort, our shared responsibility for inefficiencies is regularly made clear as we work through a staffing change or sort out unusable items from a recent collection drive. Sometimes we muddle through; sometimes we have a breakthrough.

In 2015, UIS became involved in the Foodbank’s Healthy Food Distribution, a program that provides specifically desired grocery items directly to local individuals. We were lucky enough to be part of this pilot program, which offers choice-based, farmer’s market-style food distribution. The new approach not only decreases the lines, but provides clients with food choices and educational opportunities and services, while being attentive to the notion of client dignity. Anyone who participates in one of these events is quickly and enduringly reminded of the human aspect of the work we are doing together.

The need for an on-campus food bank became clear in the fall of 2016. The Center’s consistent recognition of the importance of the relationship process made establishing the UIS Cares food pantry significantly more manageable. UIS Cares is now a client of the Foodbank, runs an ongoing on-campus collection effort, and serves approximately 20 students on a weekly basis. Our student-staff in charge of this project recently submitted a proposal to the Presidents United to Solve Hunger (PUSH) conference in March.

This ongoing relationship has allowed us to do service “with” this key partner and not “to” or “for” them (Eyler & Giles, 1999). Working collectively to address this common problem, we have provided nourishment, education, learning opportunities, and leadership opportunities for students and community members alike. Reflecting on this relationship has led me to reevaluate all of our community partner relationships with a focus on depth rather than breadth. Rather than seeking new partners, I am reminded to ask myself, “where can we extend an existing relationship in ways we did not see when we first started working with this community partner?”


  • Tinkler, A., Tinkler, B., Hausman. E, & Tufo-Strouse, G. (2014). Key Elements of Effective Service – Learning. Partnerships: A Journal of Service - Learning & Civic Engagement 5(2) 137- 152.
  • Eyler, Janet, and Dwight E. Giles, Jr. 1999. Where’s the learning in service-learning? San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
  • Feeding America. (2014). Hunger in America 2014: National report. Chicago, IL: Westat and the Urban Institute
  • Illinois Commission to End Hunger. (2017). Ending hunger: Making progress in challenging times, 2017 report. Chicago, IL: Greater Chicago Food Depository

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