Feeding the Saluki spirit: Alumnus, high schoolers donate 2,700 meals to food pantry
By Rebecca Renshaw
CARBONDALE, Ill. -- As the nation grapples with effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Saluki spirit continues to shine. The kindness and generosity of one Southern Illinois University Carbondale alumnus is one powerful example.
John Kabat ’84, ’85 is the president of the SIU Agriculture Alumni Association. After retiring last year from a 34-year teaching career at Mount Vernon Township High School, he continues to teach part-time in the Cooperative Education Program as well as agriculture-related classes. He also serves as the national Future Farmers of America adviser for Mount Vernon’s FFA Chapter.
Recently, he and his students packaged, delivered and donated more than 2,700 meals to the SIU’s Saluki Food Pantry to help students in need due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A desire to help
The 2,700 meals were part of Kabat’s larger effort to feed more than 10,000 people in his community.
Kabat got the idea when he encountered an organization called Meals of Hope at a national FFA convention in Indianapolis last fall. While there, he met with volunteers from the charitable organization, based in Naples, Florida. Its mission is to empower communities to come together to end hunger.
That mission resonated with what is dear to his heart: feeding people who suffer from food insecurities.
Kabat came back to Mount Vernon and began identifying organizations that could benefit from food donations. He and a small team assembled and donated more than 8,800 lunches to nursing homes, shelters and senior citizen centers throughout southern Illinois.
“When I heard that SIU's Saluki Food Pantry had been gathering food to fill emergency bags for students who find themselves in need, I knew where I needed to focus my remaining efforts,” Kabat said.
With the help of 22 parents and students, who are involved with the FFA chapter, 2,700 meals were assembled in about three hours. The idea wasn’t entirely Kabat’s; several of his students expressed the desire to help feed those in need.
Instilling a love of giving back
“I try to instill a spirit of giving back in each of my students and, in this project, I feel I succeeded,” Kabat said. “Even though I run a farm that feeds about 4,000 people yearly, my priority remains with the 250 kids I teach each year. I want to show them what it feels like to help others, show kindness and give back.
“If I can encourage them to go forth and multiply good deeds of their own, then I will have done my job well. God has blessed me with a sound mind and body. He’s also blessed me with my family and the farm. I never have taken any of this for granted, and I have enjoyed living my life that way,” he said.
Kabat graduated from SIU in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education and double minors in agricultural mechanics and animal science. He received his master’s degree from SIU in 1985 in agricultural education.
“I loved my time at SIU,” he said. “SIU showed me the beauty of diversity and learning from people and their cultures from all over the world. It showed me that we are all equal and we are all in life together.”
The impact of the donation
Tena Bennett, the director at the Student Center, home to the Saluki Food Pantry, called Kabat a truly great man and said the food donation came at a critical time.
“These meals will provide hundreds of our students with food during an unprecedented time in our world. The Saluki Food Pantry was completely stocked before the pandemic and has been nearly wiped out as we supply emergency food bags to our students, many of whom had community jobs that have been suspended during the ‘stay-at home’ order,” she said.
“These meals were provided at a key time that allows us to continue to support our students with food from the pantry, Bennett added. “The generosity of the students at Mount Vernon High School under John’s direction is a true demonstration of servant leadership,” she said.
If you would like to join Kabat in supporting the Saluki Cares Student Emergency Fund, please visit salukifunder.siu.edu/project/20468 and learn how you can give back to SIU and its students.