October 28, 2016

SVSU students ‘battle’ to raise funds to help the hungry

Samantha McKenzie’s earliest memories include helping her grandmother deliver food from their Kingston church to elderly parishioners who weren’t able to attend Sunday services.

Emma Eldred, a Saginaw Valley State University student who hails from Lake Isabella, has similar childhood memories of helping her church provide food for the needy.

The two women will share another commonality soon: Both are dedicating their time to encourage contributions to an annual fundraising competition between SVSU and Grand Valley State University to put  more food on the plates of needy families in the Great Lakes Bay Region.

“Battle of the Valleys is such an important event,” said McKenzie, president and chief executive officer of Saginaw-based Hidden Harvest. “It’s amazing to see what the students at SVSU are able to accomplish.”

This marks the 14th consecutive year SVSU and GVSU students have competed to raise more funds for their respective charity. Each university annually selects its own respective charity partner. In addition to supporting a community cause, the winning university earns a year’s worth of bragging rights and the right to display  a 3-foot-tall trophy affectionately known as “Victoria.” That trophy has remained on SVSU’s campus for eight consecutive years.

McKenzie hopes to help extend that streak into 2017. Her organization, a nonprofit that provides food for pantries and kitchens across the Great Lakes Bay Region, is SVSU’s charity partner for this year’s Battle of the Valleys competition, which spans the week beginning Sunday, Oct. 30.

“SVSU is definitely going to win it,” said McKenzie, a 2005 SVSU graduate. “Definitely.”

Eldred hopes McKenzie’s prediction pans out. Eldred serves as philanthropy chairperson for the upcoming contest. For nearly a year, the SVSU nursing major has planned for the 2016 Battle of the Valleys week, which involves a daily lineup of coordinated collection efforts and fun activities on campus.

“As any normal chair would be, I’m very nervous,” she said. “It’s going to be a busy week. I have high goals.”

Eldred’s predecessors have set a high standard. SVSU and GVSU have raised a combined $508,819 since the competition began in 2003. SVSU has collected $331,329 of that total, which includes last year’s $24,540 intake. The school’s largest collection was $47,278 for Bay and Saginaw county chapters of Habitat for Humanity in 2008. SVSU has eclipsed $10,000 every year except the first Battle of the Valleys.

McKenzie remembers that inaugural campaign from when she was an undergraduate.

“It was a fledgling operation at the time, but the excitement on campus for this event already was there,” she said. “It’s amazing to see how it’s grown. Not surprising, though.”

McKenzie said SVSU students are a community-minded bunch. Even outside of the Battle of the Valleys competition, students have contributed mightily to Hidden Harvest over the years. Her organization’s records show a number of SVSU student donation drives over the years have resulted in the collection of 19,000 lbs. of canned goods for Hidden Harvest. In addition, SVSU Dining Services has contributed 122,707 lbs. of food to the nonprofit since 2000.

“It’s been a great partnership,” McKenzie said. “I’m very proud to be a Cardinal.”

The winner of this year’s Battle of the Valleys contest will be announced during halftime of the football game between SVSU and GVSU, which kicks off at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5 at SVSU’s Harvey Randall Wickes Memorial Stadium.

For a complete schedule of Battle of the Valleys events, visit www.svsu.edu/battleofthevalleys/.