Three Cans of Food
When Aaron Hannah, now a senior at Berea College, visited his hometown food bank in Ashland, Kentucky, three years ago, there were only three cans of food on the shelves. Then only 19 years old, Aaron launched an ambitious effort to stock the food bank. Over the next three summers, Aaron gathered more than 20,000 pounds of non-perishable food items by leaving paper bags on the porches of thousands of Ashland homes.
Ashland, a once-thriving industry town along the Ohio River, has seen better economic times. Over the past few decades, shifting market conditions have caused waves of layoffs in the community, particularly at the steel mill. At the time Aaron started his initiative, the area made national headlines as America’s “unhappiest” community after scoring lowest on Gallup’s Well-Being Index.
Aaron was all too familiar with the situation. Growing up with two siblings in a household that brought in less than $10,000 per year, he had become accustomed to relying on the kindness of strangers.
With a turbulent home life, at 17 Aaron moved into a car that cost him $125. Kind neighbors took him in. When that car met its inevitable demise, a man impressed by Aaron’s work ethic allowed him to work toward a new car.
“If not for the people who helped me, I wouldn’t be here today. That’s why my biggest passion is helping others.”
One of the people who helped Aaron also encouraged him to apply to college. Because of his financial situation and because neither of his parents finished high school, Aaron assumed a certain and limited future. “I didn’t believe I could make something of myself until high school, didn’t see the point of trying because I had accepted that the cycle of poverty was a reality I couldn’t do anything about.”
Thanks to school counselors, Aaron changed his mind. Now a senior at Berea, Aaron has learned he actually can do something about his situation and the situations of others. “Berea was kind of a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Aaron. “On campus there are all these flags with the names of Berea graduates who have accomplished amazing things. One invented touchscreen technology, another performed the first heart catheterization in Kentucky. It’s inspiring.”
Majoring in business and minoring in communication, Aaron plans to pursue a master’s degree in nonprofit management. “Where I’m from there are a lot of people with big hearts who start nonprofits but don’t have any business background. Passion is good, but it can only take you so far if you don’t have management skills.”
Working with Berea’s Center for Excellence in Learning Through Service (CELTS), Aaron has been able to further develop these skills. Each year CELTS students participate in the Hunger Hurts Food Drive to collect food for the Berea Community Food Bank. When Aaron noticed how little food was in Ashland’s food bank while working a summer job at the homeless shelter, his experience with CELTS gave him the confidence and knowledge to do something about it.
“I didn’t have a lot of help,” said Aaron. “I was a 19-year-old kid. People were busy working, so that first year I had to do it myself.”
Aaron pushed a little cart around town to 1,000 houses, leaving paper bags he paid for himself on each doorstep. A local printing shop donated fliers to be stapled to each bag. A week later, he would pick up the bags. That summer, Aaron collected 4,600 pounds of food.
Over the next two summers, he collected nearly twice as much and found a community more willing to help him. “More people were willing,” he said, “because they saw that it was possible. It’s a ‘seeing is believing’ scenario. All it takes is that one person willing to do it.”
Aaron says Berea taught him how to be that one person. “If not for Berea, I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this.”
Berea donors invest in students like Aaron, who are given the skills and opportunities to make a true difference in the world.
“Berea donors give students opportunities that wouldn’t be possible otherwise,” said Aaron. “If not for them, I wouldn’t be able to go out and help people. I wouldn’t be able to make my life better. I wouldn’t be able to help eliminate poverty.”
Every donation to the Berea Fund isn’t just a donation that helps individual students earn a bachelor’s degree to improve their own situation. It’s an investment in helping the lives around them as well. By supporting their spiritual and personal growth in addition to intellectual growth, we produce not just good citizens – but GREAT citizens!
With more than 1,600 students enrolled at Berea, an investment in the Berea Fund produces exponential returns each and every year. It’s the return of a lifetime.