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Local Mothers Club teams up with businesses to feed UNC students over extended break

(From left) Lynne Privette, Jamie Sohn and Tiz Giordano hand out care packages to a first-year outside of the George Watts Hill Alumni Center on Wednesday, Sep. 16, 2020 through Chapel Hill/Carrboro Mothers Club. Over 35 students received personalized packages and community members made 75 homemade masks in support of the initiative. "The average care package weighed about seven pounds," Sohn said.

The Chapel Hill/Carrboro Mothers Club is working with Vimala’s Curryblossom Café to provide nutritious meals for UNC students staying in Chapel Hill over Winter Break. 

The local parenting group fundraised more than $10,000 to feed hungry students. Food distribution began Dec. 1 and will continue throughout the extended break. 

Each of the 25 participating students receives multiple nutritious meals per week from Vimala’s Curryblossom Café. 

Tiz Giordano, who helped organize the project, said they became concerned how the tumultuous semester would affect vulnerable students when the University first switched to remote learning. 

“There're a lot of people that come to college and it is kind of a protective place for years where they can get health care, food and resources,” Giordano said. “So we assumed there were young people that needed that extra support.”

Giordano formed a Local Parents Supporting UNC Students Facebook page and invited members of the larger Mothers Club to join. In September, the group distributed care packages to students staying in the Chapel Hill area

After becoming more acquainted with the needs of students, Giordano said the group decided to focus on supplying nutritious food during the break. 

They said disruptions to the academic calendar can be especially difficult for students who struggle with food insecurity because meal plans, often paid for by scholarships or financial aid, do not apply.

Giordano said these difficulties are amplified by COVID-19 due to increased isolation and economic uncertainty. 

Because the fall semester was condensed while the spring semester was delayed, Winter Break is over a month longer than previous years. Giordano said students have expressed how the support helps them get through the difficulties of the break. 

Many of the participants reported job loss, delays in accessing unemployment benefits and Medicaid and other hardships. 

Lynne Privette, who also helped with the project, said the group’s goal was twofold. In addition to feeding students, the parents wanted to support local businesses. 

Both Privette and Giordano said Vimala’s Curryblossom Café was a clear choice to provide the meals. The owner, Vimala Rajendran, pays her employees a living wage, has a history of activism and is well known in the community for her policy to serve everyone regardless of their ability to pay. 

Giordano said the decision was also personally significant as they benefited directly from the restaurant’s motto: “When Vimala cooks, everybody eats.”

“When I was in my 20s and food and housing insecure, Vimala’s 'everybody eats' program helped me have access to healthy nutritious food many times when I didn't have money for food,” Giordano said. 

In addition to collaborating with Vimala’s, the parents worked with Brandwein’s Bagels to host a fundraising night that contributed 15 percent of proceeds to the project. Alex Brandwein, the founder and owner of the recently opened bagel deli, said he was grateful to be asked to contribute.

“Part of our mission statement is to be an active and supportive business in this community, and that's what's made this so much fun,” Brandwein said. 

He said fundraisers can also help foster community and benefit the local economy. 

“It works both ways,” Brandwein said “By having these events, I think it also brings people out to support small businesses.”

While the Chapel Hill/Carrboro Mothers Club continues to distribute meals throughout the break, the group is also looking to continue similar work in the future. 

“We hope to be able to continue to do more in the spring when everyone comes back, whatever that looks like,” Privette said “But we just kind of take it one project at a time.”

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