Cornell sorority aims to feed children, needs your help

A dollar bill peeks out of a donation cup on the front counter of Mr. Beans, a coffee shop in Marion, Iowa, on Dec. 4, 2017. Members of the Beta Psi Eta sorority at Cornell College in Mount Vernon are collecting money to help students in the Marion Independent School District afford school lunches. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)
A dollar bill peeks out of a donation cup on the front counter of Mr. Beans, a coffee shop in Marion, Iowa, on Dec. 4, 2017. Members of the Beta Psi Eta sorority at Cornell College in Mount Vernon are collecting money to help students in the Marion Independent School District afford school lunches. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)

Forget all the pop culture “mean girl” nonsense you’ve heard about sororities. The women of Beta Psi Eta at Cornell College are do-gooders with only a few more days to meet a lofty philanthropic goal.

At the beginning of the academic year sorority members responded to a call from an alumna employed by the Marion Independent School District. The school had changed its policy regarding school lunches, and students with negative account balances could be denied a hot meal.

“Most of us, at one point or another, have had a moment when we couldn’t have food at lunch through no fault of our own. It’s not fair to punish a child for something they have no control over. We don’t want any child to be hungry,” said Sara Renaud, Beta treasurer and chairwoman of service and philanthropy.

The women soon learned about $7,500 was needed to cover all outstanding lunch account debt for students attending MISD schools.

“We came to realize that this was going to be a stretch,” Renaud said.

Being a small organization — just four active members on campus, and 36 graduated sisters — they’ve turned to area residents for help. Donation sites have been established at seven locations — three in Marion, since funds benefit Marion youth, and four in Mount Vernon, since that’s where Cornell is located. Now about two months into the service project, the women have raised roughly $2,000.

“Since our school semester is coming to a close quickly,” Renaud explained, “we decided to end the fundraiser for this year on Dec. 16. We hope to be at $2,500 by then.”

So, that’s the sorority’s call to the community: $500 in five days.

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The benefit, as frequent readers of this column already know, far outweighs the price tag.

When lunch accounts dip into the red, school children across the nation are denied lunches or offered a paltry alternative. School districts trying to operate within tightening budgets have difficulty absorbing the shortfall, which sometimes is several thousand dollars.

But this leaves Iowa school children in the middle of a tug of war between schools that no longer can shoulder the financial burden, and parents that either haven’t or can’t pay off the debt. Children across Iowa, with no control over their family’s purse strings, are being singled out and shamed.

The largest cost of not feeding children, however, is the burden that will be bore by our communities and our state. Healthy food contributes to a child’s academic ability. Students who don’t receive a lunch at school are distracted in the classroom. Persistent hunger or malnutrition from habitual under eating interferes with normal physical and mental development.

The latest research on academic achievement and hunger shows negative impacts are not far-flung problems for our communities, but immediate (and wholly preventable) dips in academic achievement, behavioral health and social skill development. Simply put, each time we allow a student to go hungry, we are sacrificing short- and long-term positive outcomes for our children and our future.

It’s little wonder, given what’s at stake, that the women of Beta would choose to champion this issue.

Chartered in the spring of 2012, Beta Psi Eta was founded by four Cornell students who wanted an organization that would emphasize the uniqueness of its members and bring greater awareness to the diverse culture of the campus and community. There is a strict no hazing policy in place, and membership is open to second-year female undergraduates with a 2.2 minimum grade-point average who have attended at least half of pre-pledge events.

The group stands for the empowerment of individual women through core principles of confidence, self-respect, perseverance, honesty, loyalty and unity. Betas strive together, as sisters, to overcome personal fears and barriers. They also promote multiculturalism through leadership and service, which is intended to create strong bonds on campus and throughout the community.

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“Marion is simply a part of our community and we want to do what we can for these kids because, not too long ago, we were them,” Renaud said.

Donation sites in Marion:

Mr. Beans, 1080 East Post Road

Urban Pie, 1138 7th Avenue

What’s In Store?, 1930 7th Avenue

Donation sites in Mount Vernon:

Right Frame of Mind, 105 1st Street West

Fuel, 103 1st Street East

Scarlett Boutique, 110 1st Street West

Iron Leaf Press, 102 1st Street West

Although the Betas will once again place donation jars at area merchants following winter break, the clock is ticking on their goal of $2,500 before the end of 2017.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 339-3144, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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