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Secret Meals For Hungry Children: The Power of Experiential Learning

Published on January 17, 2018, at 1:13 p.m.
by Parker Rocco.

Did you know that one in six children in America does not know where they will get their next meal? And, that one in four children in the state of Alabama doesn’t know where they will get their next meal?

Fortunately, Alabama public schools provide options for free or reduced cost breakfasts and lunches for students five days a week. But, those who rely on these programs often go hungry over the weekend, when meals are not provided for them.

Alabama Credit Union’s Secret Meals For Hungry Children program has one goal in mind — to decrease the number of children in the state experiencing hunger. Secret Meals works with food banks across the state of Alabama and northern Florida, to identify students in need. Once students are identified, volunteers from local food banks secretly slip a nutritious food pack into the students’ backpacks every Friday afternoon.

Students in Susan Daria’s class

Likewise, public relations students at The University of Alabama are working to prevent childhood hunger by partnering with Secret Meals. Susan Daria’s PR Concepting and Implementation class has been working with Secret Meals for over six years.

“Back in the fall of 2010, I got a call from one of [Alabama Credit Union’s] employees at the time, Dusti Monk. She was interested in having some [PR] students help to come up with refreshing ways to get the community involved with their program.

“I was moved by what Alabama Credit Union was doing, and I thought it would be a great idea for my classes. Once we created that partnership, we have worked with them ever since. They are fantastic,” said Daria.

Daria’s class meets for an hour and 15 minutes twice a week. During class workshops, students have the opportunity to create an event, of their choice, to raise money and awareness for Secret Meals. Additionally, students are challenged with the task of creating a stronger tie between Alabama Credit Union and Secret Meals in the eyes of the public. To do this, Daria suggests that her students use an endorsed brand strategy.

One of the benefits of an endorsed brand strategy is one that connects a parent brand, in this case Alabama Credit Union, to a smaller segment of the brand, like Secret Meals.

Students have complete creative freedom as they create promotional pieces including informational posters, push cards and banners to spread awareness for their events.

“Experiential learning is absolutely the best way to learn. There are just some things you cannot learn on a PowerPoint or just listen to someone talk about. You have to learn through experience,” said Daria.

This experiential learning course is one of a kind.

“I don’t know of any other universities that offer a class like this. I developed this class to what it is now. I wanted people who take this class to have a real service-learning, practical experience. They learn how to deal with pressure, how to think on their feet, how to take experiences you aren’t expecting and make them work on the fly,” said Daria.

Daria believes experiential learning and service learning are life-changing experiences for students.

“I am a huge proponent of experiential learning, but I am an even bigger proponent of service learning. I certainly want everybody to go out there and make all kinds of money and be successful, but at the same time, I want them to constantly think about ‘How can I turn around, look at the next person and help them?’ Students do have power to help and can make a difference,” said Daria.

While the PR students have total creative freedom, Daria and her students work closely with Alabama Credit Union’s marketing assistant, Jasmine Wells, to plan successful efforts.

Wells graduated from The University of Alabama with a degree in public relations. During her college years, Wells was enrolled in Daria’s Concept and Implementation class where she was first exposed to the Secret Meals program.

“It was so much fun! At first, I didn’t realize people here in our own state and country are going hungry. Taking Susan Daria’s class made me realize that. When I heard a spot was open at the Credit Union, Secret Meals helped bring me here,” said Wells.

As young woman in the professional world, Jasmine is very grateful for the opportunity Daria’s class provided her with.

“Susan Daria’s class gave me experience. I learned so much because I was actually able to implement my campaign,” said Wells.

Wells and the entire Secret Meals team at Alabama Credit Union love the fresh ideas students share with them. Daria suggests that other nonprofits work with students.

Wells said, “Like I said before, I wouldn’t have known about Secret Meals if it wasn’t for Susan Daria’s class. And I think there are a lot of other nonprofits in Tuscaloosa that need that outreach. Students are basically ambassadors for Secret Meals.”

Wells and other members of the Secret Meals program are looking to get more involved with students near and far.

“We talked about expanding this program. We do have a branch on The University of Alabama in Huntsville campus. If we did something like this up there, it would be really great,” said Wells.

Interested in learning more about the Secret Meals program? Visit or any Alabama Credit Union branch.

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