COLUMBIA — At Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity’s 13th annual Thanksgiving food drive, 25 men spent Sunday afternoon distributing food to 30 Columbia families selected by the Voluntary Action Committee.
By distributing enough food to feed families three meals a day for a week, Alpha Phi Alpha’s hopes to curb hunger for more than just Thanksgiving Day.
Irma Hurd, one of the recipients of the food drive, called it a blessing. “I wasn’t expecting it,” she said. “I was so surprised when I received that phone call.”
Hurd lost her job as a preschool teaching assistant in St. Louis a year ago. She relocated with her three daughters to Columbia so she could take classes at MU, but she was sidetracked in her education because of her mother’s illness and her brother's death.
At age 55, Hurd says it is difficult to find a job. She depends on Social Security and the kindness of neighbors and church friends to support her family.
"We have a sense of responsibility to the community," said Michael Bland, who has been in Alpha Phi Alpha for 12 years.
The brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha spoke of the group’s commitment to service and of the unique relationship between the undergraduate and graduate chapters of the fraternity.
Jimi Langley, who advises the undergraduate chapter, joined the fraternity six years ago. He said he was drawn to its spirit of volunteerism.
“I kept seeing the things they were doing, and they were the things I’ve always been interested in,” he said.
Unlike many fraternities and sororities, Alpha Phi Alpha — a National Panhellenic Conference chapter at MU — initiates men who have already graduated from college, creating a unique situation where younger and older men can be active in the fraternity. Members of the graduate chapter often serve as mentors and valuable professional contacts to the undergraduates.
Montel Evans, a senior at MU, spoke of the camaraderie between the undergraduate and graduate chapters of the fraternity.
"Sometimes you forget there’s a difference between the undergrad and grad chapters,” he said. “They’re kind of like big brothers.”
That camaraderie was apparent as the men set about preparing the food on Sunday afternoon. They chatted easily as they unloaded a truck full of food and distributed it into paper bags. For some of the brothers, this is the tenth time they’ve participated in the event.
Evans and Brian Washington, another senior at MU, said that service is not required in Alpha Phi Alpha. It’s just expected.
“It’s just what we do,” Evans said. “We’re always doing something.” Both Evans and Washington volunteer weekly with programs at the Central Missouri Food Bank, such as Buddy Packs, which helps distribute bags of food to elementary school kids.
Washington says he decided to join the fraternity partly because of its volunteer work. “I’ve seen this chapter do this event before, and I thought it was tremendous,” he said.
As she prepared to leave, Hurd softly thanked the young men carrying grocery bags full of milk, eggs, pancake mix, spaghetti and bread to her car.
“This really is a blessing,” she said.
For the members of Alpha Phi Alpha, the faces of the people they serve provide plenty of reward.
“Their faces light up,” Langley said. “They might not eat well all year, but this week, it’s three meals a day.”