Damir Hrnjez is a third-year studying systems engineering. He has been involved with FoodAssist since his first year at UVA and has served as the club's president for this past academic year. FoodAssist is a local food recovery network that helps collect and donate leftover food in the UVA community. FoodAssist's volunteers help run the food collection on a weekly basis and donate to areas in Charlottesville that are in need. Notable donors in the past have been O'Hill Dining Hall and Greek life houses at UVA. As president of FoodAssist, Damir is responsible for the smooth functioning of all club operations and managing its network of donors, volunteers, and recipients. Notably, this past year, FoodAssist has increased the number of Greek life houses that donate food and has also helped to maintain a constant stream of donations amidst the chaos of the pandemic. Damir has also volunteered for Meals on Wheels in Charlottesville throughout the year as a way to further help fight food insecurity in our local community. After graduation, Damir plans to enter the work force as a systems engineer and work in sustainability and transportation systems.
What led you to your service work?
I was drawn to FoodAssist's mission of fighting food waste and food insecurity because of how simple the solution is to such a pressing problem. Food insecurity is a very present issue in many communities in Virginia and the United States. However, the problem is not addressed or discussed enough. At the same time, the amount of food waste that is produced on a daily basis all over the country is extremely high. I was drawn to this work because I believe the problem to be very important and the solution to be very straightforward.
What has been the most rewarding aspect that comes with your community involvement?
The most rewarding aspect of my community involvement has been seeing people's reactions when we deliver the leftover food. Usually we are met with smiles and happy faces no matter where we deliver the food. The effect is very tangible, and I have always appreciated how clear the impact we are having is. Likewise, it is very rewarding to see all the food that would have otherwise gone to waste be served on people's plates.
How has the virtual transition affected your involvements? Has your definition of service remained the same?
Transitioning to a virtual environment has affected how we can operate our club meetings and gatherings. All executive team meetings, as well as the club-wide volunteer meetings, have transitioned onto Zoom. This has made it more difficult for collaboration and new volunteers to feel welcome. COVID-19 has also changed the pool of donors we collect from and the main recipients we donate to. In addition, the number of volunteers on a pick-up was significantly reduced and the entire process was made contactless. However, my definition of service has still stayed the same. Amidst the pandemic, the need for donations increased, and at first, we struggled to find enough donors willing to give food. However, after getting the word out, we were met with new organizations eager to help. This led us to donate over 600lbs of food to the local Salvation Army. Although our processes this year were very different, the essence of the organization stayed the same. We were still able to usefully spend our time and energy and help give back to the community.
How would you encourage others to get involved?
Those of us at FoodAssist like to preach that anyone can bridge the gap between food waste and food insecurity. Going on a pick-up to collect and donate food is something that anyone can do. It doesn't have to take much to help out, and I would encourage everyone to go on a pick-up or get involved in any way they can. Also, if there are events you know of that might have leftover food, please reach out to us so our team can pick it up.
What has been the greatest class you have taken at UVA?
My favorite class at UVA has been Systems Evaluation. I am currently in this class and really enjoyed both the professors and real-world application of the curriculum. We got to work on a lot of cases where we used given data to diagnose a lot of different problems.
What is your favorite UVA tradition?
My favorite UVA tradition is Lighting of the Lawn, because it is wonderful to see the whole UVA community come together. There is a great energy about the event.
If you could do one thing to make the world a better place, what would it be?
I would try to make someone laugh every single day.