By Emily Cousins | Staff Writer
Not many students know Waco is a diverse community with a 26% poverty rate. A group of students are working on ways to bridge the gap and help the Waco community.
The Millennium Fellows is a program sponsored by The United Nations Academic Impact and the Millennium Campus Network. A group of at least eight students has to apply together for this semester-long program, and Baylor ended up being one of the universities chosen with a total of 13 members, Shreveport, La., sophomore and co-director of The Millennium Fellows Veronica Penales said.
Penales said they had to choose two sustainable development goals, and they are working on “No poverty” and “Zero hunger.” They will be working with local businesses and nonprofits in Waco to achieve these goals this semester.
“The whole point of this cohort is to create something that’s sustainable,” Penales said. “So we want to have some kind of goal to where we can continue building up on that even … when we graduate. It’s something that can be carried out throughout Baylor’s time.”
Houston sophomore Josefina Echeverria, co-director of The Millennium Fellows, said she was surprised to learn that there such a high poverty rate in Waco.
“Baylor is a pretty wealthy campus, and we could do a lot to help the outer community and even Baylor itself because … 10% of Baylor students are food insecure, which is also barely spoken about here on campus,” Echeverria said.
The Waco community needs Baylor’s help, Boerne sophomore and social media director Addison Knight said.
“On Baylor’s campus, a lot of people haven’t experienced hardship,” Knight said. “Sometimes that can lead people to a very closed-off view, especially when people always talk about the Baylor bubble, because you can go to the ‘Grease Pit’, or you can go to HEB, and you never really have to interact with the Waco community, but it is our community, and I feel that we are deeply responsible for it.”
Echeverria said working to decrease poverty and hunger is important but even more so because it’s happening right next to campus.
“I just hope Baylor encourages the students to take a step to help those in need, especially if they claim themselves as unapologetically Christian,” Echeverria said. “I think it’s super important to define those core values and act on them instead of just talking about it.”
Carmel, Calif., sophomore and recording secretary Liz McRae said The Millennium Fellows are currently working on raising money for The Store, a food pantry on campus, and planning a community garden, so Waco residents and Baylor students can have access to affordable fresh produce.
“It’s my obligation and duty to give back to the community that is basically providing that education,” McRae said. “I’m basically just kind of like, stepping into Waco for four years, and then I’m leaving, and I feel like it wouldn’t be fair for me to take and not give anything back … There’s something I can do and other students can do to.”
Knight said the community garden is one of the initiatives that will be carried on even after The Millennium Fellows program is over at the end of the semester.
“There is a need in Waco for perishable goods — especially just healthy goods in general. That really is the key when fighting poverty and hunger — to ensure that they have access to healthy food,” Knight said.
Echeverria said getting Baylor students to connect with the Waco community is the long term goal.
“After this, we’re not going to stop and move on,” Echeverria said. “We want to build a bridge now that stays for many years to come.”