Matt Jones is the editor of the Hawgs Sports Network. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has a bachelor's and master's degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas.
'Party with a purpose': BYU alumni group donates 3 months of food before game in Arkansas
Ron Keown of Lowell pulls pallets of canned food into the St. James Missionary Baptist Church food pantry Friday, Sept. 15, 2023. Ahead of Saturday’s football game between BYU and Arkansas, the BYU Alumni’s Cougs Care program and its sponsoring institution, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, delivered a truckload of food to the pantry that included 24 pallets containing 40,000 pounds of food.
FAYETTEVILLE — The hospitality shown by BYU fans during Arkansas’ football game there last October is a lasting memory for those who made the trip to Provo, Utah.
Visiting fans were given ice cream, popcorn and a pastry known as a Cougar Tail, a 15-inch maple donut bar.
It left such an impression on the Razorbacks’ administrators that they began offering popcorn to those sitting in the visitor section for games in Fayetteville late last season. That will be the case again when Arkansas and BYU play Saturday night at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Much more impactful than an in-game snack is the donation made Friday by Cougs Care, a division of BYU’s alumni association. It donated 24 pallets of food — approximately 40,000 pounds — to a pantry at St. James Missionary Baptist Church in Fayetteville. More food will be accepted at a BYU tailgate Saturday afternoon at Wilson Park near campus.
All donations are welcome, but the group hopes for foods that are geared toward the local Marshallese community — dried and refried beans, bouillon cubes, cooking oil, tortillas, rice, salt, sugar, baking powder, chicken broth or stock, coconut oil, flour, ramen noodles, soy sauce, canned meats and canned fish.
“It’s going to be a fun environment, and we’re hoping to gather as much food as we possibly can for St. James and the local community,” said Blaine Douglas, president of the Northwest Arkansas chapter of the BYU alumni association. “There will be music and games as well as food for those who purchase a tailgate ticket.”
Michael Johanson, executive director of the BYU alumni association, said tailgates are planned in each of the six cities where the Cougars will play an away football game this season. Those tailgates can range from “300, 400, 500 people at the minimum, up to 4,000 or 5,000 people, depending on the location," Johanson said.
BYU’s alumni group has been having charitable drives in away cities for the past five seasons, even during the 2020 season impacted by the covid-19 pandemic. The charitable drives began with a trip to Tennessee in 2019 when the local alumni group donated coats.
“Coming out of that we thought, ‘We’re gathering a lot of people in these different locations and we have a bit of a different opportunity,’” Johanson said. “The way our alumni base is decentralized across the country, we have our fans everywhere. A lot of people will say, ‘Oh, you travel really well.’ It’s not a line of cars or planes from Utah. Our fans are largely local to those areas where we go. They love to gather, they love to connect, love to network and love to mentor.”
Last year Cougs Care donated $2,500 worth of diapers during a trip to South Florida, more than 1,500 books for a game at Liberty, and more than 1,500 pairs of socks and gloves for their bowl game in Albuquerque, N.M.
“I like to say it gives us an opportunity to party with a purpose,” Johanson said, “and hopefully it does some good in the communities that are so gracious to host us.”
Monique Jones, director of outreach and community engagement at St. James Missionary Baptist Church, said Friday’s donation will be among the two or three largest this year to the food pantry at the church. Jones estimates the donation will feed 650 to 800 families per week — or up to 3,000 individuals weekly — over three months.
“It’s just a joy to know that we have the food to support our community,” Jones said. “It’s a feeling of relief. We don’t get a lot of grants that will pay for food; a lot of grants pay for capacity. The one thing that would keep me up at night is not having food that would support our community.”
The food pantry at St. James had a pre-existing relationship with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which is affiliated with BYU. Jones said it was the church's ninth donation to St. James since the beginning of the pandemic.
Bob Holt contributed
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