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Food donation program named after App State grad

SAIM members pick up pizzas from Capones before delivering them to families in need Feb. 5, 2024. (Courtesy of Allen Bryant)

For the ninth year in a row, App State’s chapter of the Student American Indian Movement ran its program entitled Pizza vs. Poverty.

During this program, members of SAIM coordinated with Capone’s Pizza and the Pizza Hut located in Boone to bring large pizzas to families in need. 

The program is held in January every year, which is National Poverty in America Awareness Month. During the event, the students deliver food to families from Jan. 16-26. Before ordering and preparing the deliveries, the students are given the names of families in need by Janet Moretz.

Sophomore Vennice Rondinelli-Albarran prepares the deliveries to be taken to local families. She called the restaurants the day before pickup to ensure the food would be ready for delivery.
(Courtesy of Cierra Bell)

Moretz is a local to Todd and has been collaborating with SAIM for three years. Prior to working with Moretz, SAIM had partnered with local churches to find names of families in need.

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“We reach out to her in December and ask the names of families in need,” SAIM club advisor Allen Bryant said. “She’s incredibly involved and active in the community. It never takes long to find names of those in need.” 

Junior Cierra Bell, president of SAIM, calls the program “an excellent way to give back.” 

“It’s always a really eye opening experience, seeing people waiting for us to bring them a pizza,” Bell said. “They’re waiting for us to bring them their meals.” 

Bryant said he hopes the program shows people that “being Native means taking care of each other.” 

Bryant described the program as a way for the students to support their community and junior history major Connor McCoy agreed. 

“Community has always been so important, and such a big part of my culture,” McCoy said. “I hope I can keep doing acts of service like this in the future.”

Sophomore sustainable development major Vennice Rondinelli-Albarran coordinated and organized ordering and picking up the pizzas.

“This is the fourth year in a row for Capone’s,” Rondinelli-Albarran said. “They were so cheerful and seemed genuinely so happy to help.”

Bryant proposed renaming the program to the Mike Gira pizza vs. poverty program, after Bryant’s lifelong friend Michael David Gira passed away from cancer on Dec. 17. 

Gira became a methodist minister after graduating from App State, where he focused primarily on poverty in Chapel Hill, where he lived. Gira had been fighting cancer for seven years.

Bryant said he felt heartbroken over losing his friend, who he had known since sixth grade. 

“We thought he had it beaten,” Bryant said. “And then in late November, he got a diagnosis that told him he had about six months.” 

Michael David Gira, who was known as Mike, was honored by SAIM when renaming the pizza donation program. Gira was a minister who focused his work on poverty for the local area. (Courtesy of Allen Bryant)

After Gira’s passing, Bryant reached out to the members of SAIM asking about changing the name of the program to honor Gira and his mission. 

“I thought it’d be a really great connection,” Bryant said. “But Mike wasn’t Native, so I reached out to these guys and said, ‘Look I think this is a really great connection.’” 

The student group agreed to the name change unanimously, with Bell saying, “A friend of yours is a friend of ours.”

With SAIM being a group focused on building a community for Native students on campus, the members look forward to projects and programs that give back to the community around them. 

The students, as well as Bryant, expressed their gratitude to both pizza companies, with  Rondinelli-Albarran saying each company gave more food than they had originally ordered and asked for. 

“Their generosity really stood out,” Bryant said. “We would have been thrilled if they had given us what we asked for, but both of them gave us more.”

Bryant said he felt pride in the students and program, as well as the students who delivered the food.

“I hope we haven’t just fed them,” Bryant said. “I kind of hope we’ve told them a little something about who Indians are beyond John Wayne and Western movies.”

Bryant said he and the students believe the world would be a better place if more people worried about each other, and took care of each other’s needs.  

 “You don’t do this to get into heaven,” Bryant said. “You do it because you’re supposed to support your community.”

Cierra Bell, president of SAIM, prepares pizza for the drive. (Courtesy of Vennice Rondinelli-Albarran)


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About the Contributor
Mia Seligman
Mia Seligman, Enterprise Editor
Mia Seligman is a junior journalism major with a minor in gender, women's, and sexuality studies from Asheville, NC. This is her third year at The Appalachian. (She/her)
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    Cindy BellFeb 15, 2024 at 8:13 am

    What an amazing gesture of kindness. Proud to know that this young generation has seen and heard the needs of the people. Our daughter loves being apart of SAIM!!