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The City Journals

Hokie clan converges to combat child hunger

May 09, 2017 02:48PM ● By Travis Barton

Virginia Tech Alumni alumni stand behind dozens of bags filled with food at the KidsEat! pantry. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

Marita Viselli met Lynda Brown at a Holladay Chamber of Commerce event a few months ago. When they ran into each other at the bank a week later, they knew there was a reason for it.

Viselli is a Virginia Tech graduate, a devoted Hokie, and president of the alumni chapter in Utah. Each April, VT alumni around the country gather with local chapters for a day of service to honor the 32 victims from the campus shooting in 2007.  

Viselli, a Holladay resident, was searching for something local to help with. That’s when she met Brown, founder of KidsEat!, a Murray-based nonprofit that provides at-risk children with backpacks of food.

“She invited me to come up and look around [the KidsEat pantry] and I was like 'Oh my god, you started all this by yourself and run it with volunteers? Yes, we'll help you,’” Viselli recalled.

Viselli, along with 13 other VT graduates, came together on April 8 at the KidsEat! food pantry where they stuffed approximately 200 backpacks with food, brought in three weeks worth of food, compiled email lists and stuffed envelopes for the organization’s annual charity drive.

“Assistance programs are getting cut left and right on budgets, federal government is pulling out and people just need to step up locally,” Viselli said.

In years past, the Utah chapter volunteered with Jordan River restoration and sealing up dried food to send to Africa.

“I wanted to do something that would impact our community,” Viselli said. Brown was ecstatic they chose KidsEat!.

“When you stop and think how many other opportunities they had or charities they could've chosen from, it's really an honor that they decided this is where they wanted to spend their service time,” Brown said.

The nationwide event meant chapters from California to Alabama participated, including a Michigan chapter that helped in a Habitat for Humanity project. Viselli said VT was estimating about 10,000 people across the country contributed.

The VT motto is ut prosim—Latin for “that I may serve.”

“That [motto] was kind of always instilled in us through school,” said 2006 graduate Morgan Byrne, who helped at KidsEat!. “I think that whatever career or path our lives may take us, we're always about serving one another and our community and the greater world.”

Byrne, who was living in California at the time of the tragedy, added that the school always “had a sense of community and pride and school spirit, but that event brought us together even more so.”

Brown said having KidsEat! recognized nationally along with VT and all its accompanying service was priceless.

“And the fact that they're so enthusiastic…and have that energy rub off and be a part of what we're doing, that’s so invaluable,” she said.

What they’re doing is gathering, raising and sending food to hungry children through partnering agencies like the Boys & Girls Club, public schools, Head Start and the Neighborhood House.

“We're basically feeding children that aren’t getting food service by any other source here in the valley,” Brown said.

Viselli continually expressed how impressed she was with what Brown has started with her charity. Brown told Viselli during the service day that she couldn’t do this alone and “it’s you people who make this organization amazing.”

“She's amazing,” Viselli responded. “Everybody feels great about this… now everyone's going to leave today going ‘that's cool, we actually made a difference today.’”

KidsEat! was presented with a community service award from the Murray Chamber of Commerce last month. The charity will hold its spring gala, Help Us Bloom, a garden tea party at 4:30 p.m. on May 7 at 1021 E. Southfork Drive.

“I would highly encourage anybody or any group that's looking for a way to help to be aware of KidsEat!. Come to their gala in May. [Brown’s] doing this all through volunteers,” Viselli said.