Fifteen years ago Jason Downing’s students began stacking cans of donated food in the corner of their Front Range Community College (FRCC) classroom. He would load the items into his trunk and make a single trip to the Food Bank of Larimer County. Soon he began also teaching sociology at CSU, and cans started closing in on his Clark officemates as students dropped by with their donations. It wasn’t long before Jason needed additional arms and vehicles to handle the ever-increasing donations, so collection day became an in-class celebration and a group haul effort. In fall 2019, Jason’s CSU SOC 100 and SOC 220 students donated over 5,000 pounds of food.
But just as the pandemic caused the Food Bank’s needs to rise in spring 2020, CSU students could no longer gather in person. Students pivoted to hold the drive virtually and even beat previous years’ numbers. “Pretty cool considering we’ve never done it all virtually before,” said Jason.
That fall, students again came together virtually and inspired family and friends to join them. CSU SOC students surpassed their spring record, and both college’s efforts received the most anonymous contributions to date including ones for $2,600 (CSU) and $1,000 (FRCC). “We raised the most donations in the year with the most need,” says Jason.
As proud as he is of his students continuing to raise the bar, simply inspiring them to think beyond their own worlds and take action was his original intention. “I wanted to create a way to do optional extra credit, and I wanted to feed people,” Jason says. “So I thought if I had a chance to get a little bit of food for people in need, I would. It’s gotten bigger and bigger.” In sixteen years only three students have taken the alternate extra credit option he offers, a two-page paper on poverty and homelessness. Jason currently teaches for CSU, FRCC and CU and sets up separate food drives for each course.
Aubry Sapp, CSU SOC 220 student and Ecosystem Science & Sustainability major, says “Seeing all the hard work of employees and volunteers at the food bank back in my hometown [in Virginia] was one of the first experiences that emphasized to me how important building community is. Being a part of a team and collectively making efforts when and where you can genuinely has the potential to make differences in people’s lives, which I think is especially important this year. I’m very grateful for the opportunity Professor Downing and the Sociology department have offered us this semester and I know that the donations everyone on our teams made will be able to help our community in combating food insecurity.”
Jason was also exposed to good deeds early in life as his mother offered pro bono animal care to families in need. Years later as he became a parent and college instructor, he involved his own young children in his college-level food drive efforts. Before dropping his trunkful of cans off at the Food Bank each semester, he tasked his then elementary-age boys with climbing in and inspecting dates to be sure none of the donated cans had expired. His boys are now teenagers and help with the family farm. Ravensdale also builds community by offering concerts, a farmstand and local art. (Fun facts: Jason is a rockstar, and his wife Julie is an artist!)
CSU Sociology has become one of the Food Bank’s largest non-commercial donors. Please contact Jason if you’re interested in joining forces. Collection times are at the end of semesters so as to not coincide with CSU’s annual fall food drive, Cans Around the Oval.
“The Food Bank for Larimer County is very appreciative of Professor Downing for thinking of us for his Sociology Food Drives. It is very moving to see so many students coming together to support a very worthy cause,” says Charlene Olms, Community Engagement Coordinator, Food Bank for Larimer County. “In 2020 these two Food Drives raised enough to provide 21,244 meals to those in need in Larimer County. We hope to work with Professor Downing again in the future!”
In spring 2021, Jason Downing, Sociology students and the Food Bank for Larimer County were recognized as the Celebrate! Colorado State Service-Learning Award winners. Turn up your volume and check out this pre-pandemic video of a collection day.
In Fall 2021, Jason’s students raised $6,317 which provided around 13,000 meals (based on the National Grocer Index). In Spring 2022, students donated just over 5,000 pounds. Valued at approximately $5,300, their contributions provide about 10,600 meals. In Fall 2022, both in-person and online food drives were conducted by all of Jason’s courses. Students raised $6,676 online, which funded around 13,700 meals. Students also collected 4,000 pounds of food and distributed it directly to 20 local families.
This spring, students paraded from their classrooms across campus with their donations to help raise awareness of the new location of the Rams Against Hunger pantry in the CSU General Services Building at 1251 Mason Street. Check out the photos and videos here.
Keep rocking, Jason!