NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. — Penn State New Kensington's student-athletes, faculty and staff went above and beyond to help others in the community with this year's inaugural Student-Athlete Advisory Committee Thanksgiving food drive.
The committee's overarching goal is to enhance the total student-athlete experience by promoting opportunities for all student-athletes, protecting the student-athletes' well-being and fostering a positive student-athlete image. Although the pandemic created changes to their usual plans — as well as canceled the fall athletics season — the 14-member committee has found ways to engage the student-athlete population through virtual activities and meetings. In addition, the group committed to try to collect donations on campus through a food drive.
Beginning Oct. 12, the student-led advisory committee sponsored the drive to benefit the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches in Natrona Heights, which operates a local food bank serving nearly 500 families. In addition, there was a friendly competition to see which team could collect the most items.
Joseph Dusabe, the committee's community service representative from the men's basketball team, said the group chose to hold the food drive in order to aid those in need and also help keep everybody safe due to limits on volunteer opportunities during the pandemic.
"I know I can't solve all the world's problems simultaneously, but I do know that I can ensure that one less individual or family goes hungry for a period of time," said Dusabe.
Calle Zmenkowski, the committee's president and representative of the softball team, said the team was initially nervous when the drive started, due to lower in-person populations on campus, but had hopes to collect at least 200 donations by the end of the food drive.
After a three-week period the committee exceeded that goal, garnering more than 1,000 items, with the women's volleyball team collecting the most with 330 donations.
"My expectations have been met and more," said Zmenkowski. "I am super excited with the amount of donations and the efforts of everyone on campus, even in these uncertain times. I knew deep down that our small campus community would easily be able to come together and donate so many items for those in need because everyone at this campus has such big hearts and cares for our community."
Megan Bratkovich, director of athletics, echoed Zmenkowski's sentiments.
"I'm extremely proud that we were able to make such a sizable donation during this time," added Bratkovich. "It shows the great character and caring nature of our student-athletes."
With the food drive reaching a successful conclusion and the academic semester in it's final weeks, the importance of the advisory committee also became even more evident during the pandemic.
"During these unprecedented times, the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee is an important tool and communication network to unite our student-athletes as a group," said Tracy Gustafson, assistant director of athletics and adviser of the group. "This was evident in their response to the food drive and their desire to help others when some may have been in need themselves."
Janet Surma, senior communications major and student-athlete at the campus, contributed to this story.