UCA Class of 2026 spends part of Welcome Week volunteering

Welcome Week at the University of Central Arkansas is usually a time for new students to get acclimated to university life. But this year’s entering freshmen got the opportunity to do something extra as part of their introduction to campus.

Incoming students in the Class of 2026 joined Student Orientation Staff members in a volunteer event that packed nearly 47,000 meals to help combat world hunger.

Hannah-Grace Fritz, an SOS member and sophomore pre-med student, was immediately on board with participating in the meal-packing event as soon as she learned about it. 

“Watching SOS members as a freshman, I knew I wanted to be a part of the group,” Fritz said. “Our main goal in SOS is to serve the freshmen, but it was also neat for the freshmen to have this opportunity. There are so many fun Welcome Week events and this one also showed the importance of giving back to those in need.” 

The UCA Office of First Year Experience and the Department of Outreach and Community Engagement partnered with Tacos4Life and Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) for two MobilePack™ events on Sunday, Aug. 21. MobilePacks are short-term events organized by FMSC that allow volunteers to measure and scoop ingredients, seal bags and prepare boxes to ship to hungry children around the world. Each meal contains rice, soy-dried vegetables and a blend of vitamins and minerals specifically designed to assist in reversing and preventing undernutrition.

Hannah-Grace Fritz

Hannah-Grace Fritz

When Welcome Week at UCA was extended from four to five days a few years ago, Lindsey Shurley, director of first-year experience, wanted to do something on the extra day to encapsulate UCA’s commitment to serving the community. Last year, Shurley began collaborating with Service-learning and Volunteerism Director Lesley Graybeal on ideas for a meal packing event, but public health restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic put any plans on hold. 

“We loved this idea because there was a tie to the local community as well as the global community,” Shurley said. “It addresses the world hunger problem and the students were able to interact together, work as a team and make connections.” 

On the afternoon before the meal packing event, UCA faculty, staff and students gathered for preparation work, which included unloading materials from trucks and setting up work space in the Ronnie Williams Student Center ballroom. The next day, 188 students hand-packed 46,872 nutritious MannaPack® meals which were then shipped to FMSC partners who distribute globally to children in need. 

“Events like this can help you grow as a person and learn more about the world around you,” Fritz said. “This was an awesome opportunity for freshmen to serve in a fun way with upperclassmen alongside them.” 

Shurley hopes the volunteer event will become an annual tradition for UCA students.

Event photos by Madison Ogle