Virginia Tech recently held its annual Flex Out Hunger event, a program that uses student flex funds from dining plans to raise money for the Montgomery County Emergency Assistance Program (MCEAP) and the Student Emergency Fund. The program enables students to donate leftover funds from their meal plans, with this year’s event raising $21,265.02 and $7,088.34 for the two charities respectively.
According to a report from Virginia Tech's student publication, The Collegiate Times, this year’s event was ran May 3-7, with fundraising tables placed in front of every campus dining hall. With the decreased number of students on dining plans this year, the Virginia Tech chapter of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity aided in the donation program, supplementing the flex fund efforts with online donations, a raffle and working with other organizations on campus.
“Because this year only the freshmen on campus purchased a meal plan, we had far less money in general to draw from,” says Cooper Whiteleather, president of the Virginia Tech chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon. “I would say COVID-19 definitely affected fundraising. We just had less money to go around in general, which is part of why we took it so seriously, because we knew that people in the community needed the help now more than ever.”
In 2019, prior to COVID-19, the initiative raised about $40,000 total, a number that plummeted in 2020 to around $11,000, explains Whiteleather. "This year we raised just over $32,000 total, between the Flex donations and other online methods, as well as some cash. It was less than the last in-person year, but significantly more than last year’s pandemic conditions.”
Also underpinning the Flex Out Hunger donation program is Virginia Tech Dining Services.
“Dining services always wants the students to spend their dining plan money on meals, that’s what the number one goal is," says Brian Grove, associate director of Dining Services. "But we were kind of struggling — students always had leftover money — and we really wanted to give a couple of avenues to spend their leftover Flex Plan money."
75% of the fundraised money went toward the MCEAP, while the other 25% of the money raised went toward the Dean of Students Student Emergency Fund. The Student Emergency Fund allows students who are in immediate need of financial support to apply for a one-time grant.