If Christian Hale has his way, the food pantry at Mountain Empire Community College (MECC) will be fully stocked around the clock so no student will suffer the pangs of food insecurity. His conscience and compassion for others simply won’t allow it.
Hale says he witnessed the plight of the homeless and hungry first-hand during a college-sponsored trip to California in 2017 and wondered if folks in Southwest Virginia were going through the same thing.
As it turns out, they are.
According to the most recent figures from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, more than a half-million people experience homelessness each night. In Virginia, the number comes in at just over 6,000. While figures for Southwest Virginia specifically are not included in the report, numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau are more revealing.
According to the most recent statistics, the poverty rate in America is 12.3 percent of the population or 1 in 8 Americans. In Big Stone Gap, VA where MECC is located, the poverty rate is more than twice that figure (26.2%). Many people, including some students, simply can’t afford to adequately feed themselves, let alone put a roof over their heads.
Eager to help, Hale reached out to his Student Success coach at MECC who let him know the college was starting a food bank. Hale immediately went out and bought 350 bottles of water to stock the pantry and he’s been donating goods and money steadily ever since.
“I enjoy helping others and putting smiles on their faces,” he said.
In addition to being a full-time student at MECC, Hale also works two jobs. And when he’s not working or studying, he’s volunteering at the local animal shelter or nearby state park.
“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.” That quote from Sheryl Sandberg , COO of Facebook, is one that inspires Hale on a daily basis and it shows. Many of his contemporaries look to him for guidance. His charitable giving routinely inspires others.
“I just hope it has an impact,” Hale said.
Hale’s commitment to the disadvantaged is far from temporary. He plans to set up a food pantry in the classroom when he launches his career as an educator in the not too distant future.