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Plumpy’nut is a peanut butter paste fortified with vitamins. Because it can reverse the ravages of malnutrition in as few as two weeks, Doctors Without Borders dubbed the lifesaving concoction "a revolution in nutritional affairs." Integrated marketing communications major Elizabeth Stoltz ’13 first read about Plumpy’nut in high school.
"I'd been disheartened about the tragic effects of childhood malnutrition in Africa and was stunned that such an easy solution existed," she said. "I wanted be part of that solution."
So she organized a 5K walk that raised $5,000 to support Plumpy’nut distribution in Ethiopia. Inspired by that success, Elizabeth established Food for Thought, a nonprofit that was initially dedicated to raising money for more Plumpy’nut deliveries. After doing summer relief work in Ethiopia, Elizabeth arrived at IC and founded a student chapter of Food for Thought. The college provided fertile ground for her organization.
"Being a Park scholar, I was surrounded by students who shared my commitment to improving the lives of others," says Elizabeth, referring to a scholarship program at IC that couples academic achievement with community service. "As a freshman, I was already implementing classroom lessons in marketing and public relations to make a social impact."
That impact has broadened.
"Every week, students pitch causes they feel Food for Thought can advance," she said. "Besides two local Plumpy’nut walks, which raised our total support to $20,000, Food for Thought has supported orphanages in Russia, Peru, and Nicaragua. We also organized a cupcake sale that raised $1,600, the cost of a one-year scholarship for a student at a school in India. Starting with five people on the executive board, Food for Thought now has a full house at rush nights."
Elizabeth’s relief efforts have garnered national recognition. As her junior year draws to a close, she is one of 162 American college students to be named a 2012 Newman Civic Fellow. Bestowed by Campus Compact, a coalition of college and university presidents, the award honors undergraduates who engage their fellow students in civic and social responsibilities.
Ironically, as word spreads about Elizabeth’s leadership ability, she feels it’s time, with her senior year approaching, to step down as president of Food for Thought and make way for younger leadership—the first transition, she hopes, of many.
"After I graduate, I’ll be looking at bigger PR firms in Washington, D.C., as good places to integrate relief work with public relations skills,” she said. “But wherever I go, Plumpy’nut and Food for Thought will be in my blood. In 15 years, I want to come back and be blown away by how far IC students have taken the organization."
>> More on this story: Student Organizations at IC
When Susannah Faulkner came to Ithaca College, she knew she was interested in politics. She didn’t know that a food allergy would lead to a passion for activism.
“As a freshman, I came into Ithaca having a severe intolerance to gluten,” Susannah recalls. “Eating in the dining hall is such a social experience, and it was really hard for me because I’d have to bring bread in the dining hall and worry about cross-contamination.”
Through her frustration, Susannah saw an opportunity to help other students. She successfully ran for Student Government Association senator for her class. “My main platform was promoting celiac awareness and food allergy awareness on campus, except I literally had no idea it would turn into my calling of some sort.”
Susannah worked with IC staff to change the menu, with supportive professors to encourage her along the way. “My academic adviser, Kelly Dietz in the politics department, was the most incredible mentor a young, passionate, driven student could ask for. Any time I threw a crazy idea at her, she would tell me how to make it happen.”
In November 2009, the gluten-free pantry opened in the Campus Center Dining Hall. “Because Ithaca is such an inclusive community, it’s so welcoming, and it’s so open to change, I was able to put forth this idea and actually see results.”
Her political path did not end there. As a senior, Susannah was elected vice president of campus affairs and co-founded the Food Allergy Awareness Club. Thanks to her efforts, there is now a gluten-free pantry in every dining hall on the Ithaca College campus. “I can’t imagine doing this anywhere else. I was in the perfect place at the perfect time in the perfect community to make a change that was really needed.”
After graduation, Susannah was recruited by Udi’s Gluten Free Foods as their university outreach specialist. The passion she found at IC has become her full-time career—leading a gluten-free revolution on campuses across the country.
“I work with interns who remind me so much of myself during my time at Ithaca,” she says. “They’re this little army of gluten-free warriors.”
>> More on this story: Student Organizations at IC
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