students and faculty of SFA’s Lumberjack Express

From left, Stephen F. Austin State University hospitality administration students Sandra Ramos, Jordan Generals and Jaclyn Castillo and their instructor, Dr. Donna Fickes, distributed lunches recently at Nacogdoches Helping Other People Eat food pantry. SFA faculty members and students served more than 300 meals to Nacogdoches HOPE clients during drive-thru lunch distributions from SFA’s Lumberjack Express on Wednesdays in October and November. Through a grant awarded by the East Texas Food Bank, Nacogdoches HOPE is purchasing a building and property next to the food pantry and Jo’s Diner soup kitchen at 2100 E. Main St. In addition to providing food and other resources to more individuals in the county, the expansion will offer faculty-supervised service-learning opportunities to students in three SFA schools: DeWitt School of Nursing, School of Human Sciences and School of Social Work.

NACOGDOCHES, Texas — Nacogdoches Helping Other People Eat food pantry is expanding thanks to a grant that involves a collaboration with three Stephen F. Austin State University schools.

Nacogdoches HOPE is using the funding from a large fiscal year 2021 Infrastructure and Capacity Building Challenge grant awarded by the East Texas Food Bank to purchase a building and property next to the food pantry and Jo’s Diner soup kitchen at 2100 E. Main St. This will help increase the number of individuals who can be served and food distribution, expand services and improve efficiency.

“With this expansion, we’ll be able to better connect clients with needed resources and services,” said Dr. Sharon Ninness, director of the expansion project, grant writer and Nacogdoches HOPE board member. “We look forward to broadening our collaboration with SFA as part of this project.”

Students from SFA’s DeWitt School of Nursing in the College of Sciences and Mathematics, School of Human Sciences in the James I. Perkins College of Education and School of Social Work in the College of Liberal and Applied Arts will gain valuable experience while serving the community, according to Wilma Cordova, professor of social work at SFA and volunteer coordinator for Nacogdoches HOPE.

“It is very common for schools of social work to have resource centers to connect clients to transportation, medical, mental health counseling, employment and child care services,” Cordova said. “To finally have a place to provide direct community support and a training location for our students is an ideal collaboration for the neighborhood, which is located in what the 2020 U.S. Census designated as the tract with the highest level of poverty in East Texas. Establishing this resource at the food pantry is key to helping achieve a healthier community.”

Students from SFA’s School of Social Work have interned at Nacogdoches HOPE during the past year to help with the 144% increase in demand for services since November 2019, according to Cordova.

The new building will have offices for social work interns to provide information and referral services to those in need; for human sciences interns in SFA’s food and nutrition program to provide clients with dietary consultations; and for nursing students and faculty members to conduct wellness checks for individuals who request them.

“This opens up new opportunities for our nursing students to learn and to provide care within the community,” said Michelle Klein, clinical instructor in the School of Nursing. “We are excited to collaborate with SFA’s School of Social Work and School of Human Sciences to improve the health and wellness of so many through Nacogdoches HOPE.”

In addition to food storage, meal preparation and computers clients can use to research healthy recipes and nutrition information, the building will house classes for the Cooking Matters program, a partnership established six years ago between SFA’s School of Human Sciences and the East Texas Food Bank in Tyler. It’s designed to help curb high levels of food insecurity in East Texas while giving SFA students valuable experience.

“This allows our students to demonstrate their nutrition knowledge with interactive education and cooking demonstrations,” said Justin Pelham, clinical instructor of food and nutrition at SFA. “Community opportunities enhance the student-learning experience when working with our underserved populations locally, making a significant impact in the students’ lives well past their undergraduate experience at SFA.”

The new building also will be used to serve more than 50 people during Jo’s Diner lunches. For the safety of its clients and volunteers, Jo’s Diner has been closed to in-person meals since March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but SFA human sciences students and faculty members helped clients by serving to-go lunches from the Lumberjack Express mobile food lab Oct. 14 through Nov. 18.

“The food was purchased by HOPE and prepared in the pantry’s kitchen,” Ninness said. “SFA students planned, prepared, cooked and distributed meals for the lunches under the supervision of SFA faculty members.”

Over six weeks, SFA students served more than 300 meals to members of the Nacogdoches community, according to Dr. Donna Fickes, clinical instructor of hospitality administration at SFA.

“The drive-thru lunches have been well-received,” Fickes said. “As soon as the Lumberjack Express arrives, people start walking up to ask when we will start serving. We will look at restarting our service-learning experience in the spring semester to continue filling this need in our community.”  

Lauren Christopher, an SFA food and nutrition senior from Tyler, helped purchase food for the lunches and plan and prepare meals as part of her internship at Nacogdoches HOPE.  

“This is a great way for students to get involved with helping their community,” Christopher said. “I encourage SFA students to volunteer and help people in need.”

As Thanksgiving approaches, the food pantry needs more help than ever, Ninness said.

Nacogdoches HOPE is requesting food items, including peanut butter, jelly, pinto beans, rice, spaghetti, spaghetti sauce, Chunky soups and canned meats (chicken, salmon, tuna, chili, roast beef or corned beef hash). For drop-off times, email

The food pantry also needs monetary donations. To donate by check, PayPal or credit card or through your Amazon and Kroger purchases, visit

“A donation of $25 will provide boxes of supplemental food to four families because HOPE purchases food from the East Texas Food Bank for pennies on the dollar,” Ninness said. “Every donation helps, no matter how small. Ninety cents of every dollar donated goes to HOPE’s food program. This organization is operated 100% by unpaid volunteers.”

For information on volunteering at the food pantry and Jo’s Diner, email Cordova at For information on volunteering to help move items, paint, landscape and engage in other activities related to the expansion project, contact Ninness at