APR class creates Secret Meals campaigns

APR class creates Secret Meals campaigns

To Anna Jones, a senior majoring in public relations, students sometimes lose sight of the prevalence of food insecurity in Tuscaloosa.

Jones is a student in a public relations class, APR 419 Public Relations Concepting and Implementation, that volunteers for Secret Meals For Hungry Children, a program that started in 2008 to provide students in Tuscaloosa City and County Schools who are facing hunger at home with healthy meals for the weekend.

“I think sometimes we remember there is food insecurity, and we think of maybe other countries,” Jones said. “It’s cool to really be able to play a part and raise awareness about this situation that it’s happening right here in our community.”

Students in APR 419 partnered with Alabama Credit Union to help with a secret mission that supplies over 2,500 children in Alabama and Florida with food. By providing all of Secret Meals’ operational and promotional funding, Alabama Credit Union ensures 100 percent of donations go to purchasing food for the packs.

“I would love to actually stay involved with them after this class,” Jones said. “I love what they do. I love what they stand for.”

The program coined the name Secret Meals because the 3.5 pound meals are discreetly packed into students’ backpacks every Friday before they head home for the weekend so students, primarily in elementary school, who are a part of the program do not feel out of place from their peers. Each child’s name and personal information remains a secret.

“Secret Meals originally started with one school and a handful of students, but as our discovery of the need grew, we now serve over 2,300 students across the state and into parts of Florida,” said Amanda Burns, the community involvement coordinator.

Secret Meals personally works with school officials to determine which students need the food packs, and then teachers privately deliver them accordingly.

“When the children are at P.E. or art class, the teachers will put the food packs into the backpacks while the students are out of the room,” Burns said.

UA students work to design fundraising and awareness events to raise money for the food that Secret Meals distributes. There are three Public Relations Concepting and Implementation classes with nine groups that partnered with Secret Meals.

This semester’s public relations class started planning and organizing events in August. Since then, groups have put on events such as Let’s Tackle Hunger at Heat Pizza Bar, T-Town’s Top Dog hot dog eating contest, Barre Hunger at Pure Barre, among many others.  

The only professor for this class, Susan Daria, has been working with the students and the program since the spring of 2011, when her class first partnered with Secret Meals.

“Over the years, my various student groups have raised over $150,000,” said Daria, an instructor in the Advertising and Public Relations Department.

APR 419 is divided into three to four groups, and each group is required to visually design and brand their efforts, find and secure community partners, assess the event and then create a two- to three-minute documentary of their efforts before finally presenting everything to their client, Daria said.

“Each semester my students amaze me with the way they pour their hearts into these projects,” Daria said. “It gives me so much hope for the future.”