Feeding the Saluki spirit

Alumnus, high schoolers donate 2,700 meals to food pantry

John and wife, Marcia Kabat

By Rebecca Renshaw

As the nation grapples with effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Saluki spirit continues to shine. The kindness and generosity of one SIU 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 advisor 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 https://salukifunder.siu.edu/project/20468 and learn how you can give back to SIU and its students.

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SIU Credit Union Kicks Off the Donations to the 2020 SIU Day of Giving


Giving is in the DNA of those at the SIU Credit Union, and local charities have regularly been the beneficiaries of their benevolence. This year, the SIU Credit Union kicked off the Day of Giving with two gifts. The first donation of $20,000 will benefit SIU’s New Student Services and the second donation of $10,000 will go to Touch of Nature’s programs.

The SIU Credit Union was represented by Mike Lantrip, CEO, Mark Dynis, Marketing Director and Kim Babington, Vice President of Community Outreach.

Chancellor John M. Dunn received the donations from the group and said that the SIU Credit Union has been a good partner to SIU for many years.

“These gifts are generous and they represent a number of gifts they’ve given across the years for many endeavors,” he said.

Lori Stettler, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs says the support of the SIU Credit Union is priceless.

“The investment they made reaches far beyond New Student Programs and the University.  The work done by the team in New Student Programs impacts not only our students, but our community through the economic impact families make in our city and our region. We are grateful for their donation, their commitment and the time they invest in us each semester. The funds will support the annual Saluki Start Up and Weeks of Welcome programs, which help new students as they begin their Saluki journey,” she said.

“We are so proud to be a part of the SIU Day of Giving,” said Babington.

“This is such an important day and we want students to know they have a financial institution they can depend on,” she said.

Babington said that three years ago she did not know much about SIU’s Touch of Nature, but a colleague took her out to their facilities and introduced her to the many programs Touch of Nature offers. She knew then that SIU Credit Union had to play a part in their efforts.

J.D. Tanner, Touch of Nature’s Director, appreciates the ongoing support from SIU Credit Union.

“It’s important to have a community organization like SIU Credit Union to recognize what we do with students and the community,” he said.

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SIU Day of Giving totals top $1.6 million

Day of Giving – Chancellor John M. Dunn discusses the fourth SIU Carbondale Day of Giving campaign during festivities on Wednesday. The 24-hour fundraising campaign raised more than $1.6 million.

CARBONDALE, Ill., — The preliminary total raised through Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s fourth Day of Giving on March 4 reached more than $1.6 million. The total reflects more than 2,441 individual gifts from 43 states and 10 countries.

Chancellor John M. Dunn thanked donors for continued growth in support through the annual Day of Giving, from $340,000 in 2017 to more than $1 million in 2020. Last year, donors contributed $910,000 through the Day of Giving.

“The annual growth in contributions is another signal of confidence in the university’s momentum,” he said. “As we near the end of our 150th year, donors are positioning SIU for the next 150.”

Dunn added that ultimately, the Day of Giving is not about the number.

“It’s about impact,” he said. “Every gift made will help a student, support a program or contribute to the greater community through the arts, athletics and service. We are deeply grateful to everyone who gave.”

The theme of this year’s Day of Giving was “1 Vision. 24 Hours.” Between 6 a.m. March 4 and 5:59 a.m. March 5, donors visited siuday.siu.edu to support more than 150 programs, initiatives and scholarships.

The numbers aren’t final, said Rae Goldsmith, chief executive officer of the SIU Foundation.

“The immediate totals include gifts made online,” she said. “The numbers will grow as we count gifts made in person, by phone and by mail in the days ahead.”

The Day of Giving includes a friendly competition for traveling trophies recognizing academic and non-academic units raising the most funds or attracting the most individual gifts.

The College of Liberal Arts received more than $197,960, making it the academic unit that that raised the most funds. The School of Medicine had the highest number of individual gifts for an academic unit at 285. Among non-academic programs, Saluki Athletics received the most in total donations at $139,301. The Balancing Education, Experience and Reality Scholarship supported by the Carbondale ‘80s & 90s Facebook group received 815 individual gifts, earned the trophy for a most gifts raised by a non-academic unit.

“Every gift of any size makes a difference,” Goldsmith said. “The Day of Giving demonstrates the power of community and philanthropy.”

She added that all gifts to the Day of Giving also support the foundation’s current $200 million Forever SIU campaign for the university.

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