MA Business students raise $20,000 for Forsyth Backpack Program

Group photo of MA business students involved in the Forsyth Backpack Program

Five hundred Forsyth County school children who rely on school lunches for nourishment will have full bellies over the winter break when schools are closed, thanks to 138 Master of Arts in Management students at Wake Forest University School of Business and the Forsyth Backpack Program, founded by a Wake Forest Law school professor.

The business students spent the last six weeks raising $20,000 for the Forsyth Backpack Program as part of their semester-long The Hunger Project.

The nonprofit agency, which provides food for Forsyth County school children over the weekends and holidays, received the donation at the School of Business on Dec. 4 in Farrell Hall.

“It means kids are going to eat over Christmas,” Barbara Lentz, a WFU Law School professor and founder of the Forsyth Backpack Program said. “There are 500 kids who might not have known where their meals were coming from, who were maybe nervous or afraid about being out of school for two weeks and now they won’t have to feel that fear.”

“What really touched us about the Forsyth Backpack Program was hearing about how many kids struggled with food insecurity right in Winston-Salem,” said Sydney Sfreddo (MA ’14) who raised more than $8,800 along with teammates Art Hailey, Josh Ramos, Andrew Rodriguez, and Natalie Sherman through this website “Being hungry affects their performance in school and ability to learn, and this program helps solve these issues.”

The students broke into 28 teams at the beginning of the semester to tackle the issue of hunger and food insecurity in Forsyth County. Their hands-on learning experience used business principles to study the issue – including design thinking, empathetic interviewing, research, data analysis, business modeling and more – to create innovative solutions to the problem.  A few weeks ago, they decided to raise money for the Forsyth Backpack Program, with a little friendly competition along the way.

“For this Action Learning Project, they created donation websites, sold 3,000 colorful rubber bracelets, held bake sales and even hosted a denim day, charging their classmates $3 to wear jeans instead of the required 9-5 business casual attire customary in the MA program,” said Michelle Horton, director of experiential learning at the School. “They worked with the University’s Campus Kitchens program to collect and redistribute food from dining halls across Winston-Salem. It really was hands-on.”

The teams presented their ideas to their professors last week, and four teams were chosen to give a final presentation before a panel of judges in Broyhill Auditorium in Farrell Hall. The judges included representatives from Second Harvest Food Bank, Samaritan Ministries, WFU Campus Life, a retired RJR executive turned philanthropic consultant, EY (formerly Ernst & Young) and Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools.

The winning team of Shea Akinboboye, Jeremy Bender, Charlie Chapman, David Roberts and Tess Tidwell, shared their concept for a volunteer-run grocery store, that would be open from 5-10pm, and would focus not only on nutritious produce and other items, but a weekly easy-to-prepare meal that would come pre-packaged with simple instructions so their customers would turn to wholesome meals instead of convenient fast food. Their research indicated that a small store like this could help a minimum of 3,000 people in a food desert just a few miles from campus.

“As we can see with the big check for Forsyth Backpacks, we are all winners here,” Shea Akinboboye (MA ’14) said, when the judges’ decision was announced.

Lentz, along with Shaida Horner and Carol Templeton of Forsyth Backpacks said they were overwhelmed with the support their nonprofit received, and amazed by the efforts of the students. “There are all these people who learned about it (hunger), and have energy, enthusiasm and great ideas and the skills to put them into practice.  So this is great for Forsyth Backpack and 1200 kids, but it’s also wonderful way to build awareness and start working on solutions in our community.”

The Hunger Project is not only a semester-long Action Learning Project, but it’s also a way to embody the Wake Forest University motto of Pro Humanitate, according to Horton.

“Getting ahead doesn’t mean leaving others behind,” Senior Associate Dean of Academic Programs, Gordon McCray remarked to the students. “You know those words are true, and now you feel it in your hearts.”