When Wayne Butler started working as a police officer at Community College of Baltimore County's Catonsville campus, he was intrigued by the idea of helping students.
He took the job after a 20-year career as a policeman at the Maryland Transit Administration.
"I find students, especially where we are now, they need somebody who wants to listen," he said. "Unfortunately we have a lot of adults who don't want to listen to students. They hear them, but they don't listen."
Butler would often patrol near the cafeteria, where students typically hang out. On occasion, he'd see a student leave without paying.
He would tell them what they're doing is wrong, and they should not jeopardize their future over an order of fries. He'd give them the money for the food and have them return to pay.
"I don't want to see them in the streets trying to rob and steal and end up going to jail," he said. "I figured if I could help at least one [student], then I'm OK with that."
Throughout the school year, Butler and his colleagues go to the cafeteria as its closing and buy leftover food that otherwise would be thrown out to give to the students in need.
"A student is not going to learn if he's hungry," he said. "I don't care how hard he tries, it's hard for him to learn when he's hungry."
An October report from the National Student Campaign Against Hunger & Homelessness states that 48 percent of respondents reported food insecurity — defined as the lack of reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food — within 30 days of being surveyed. The campaign surveyed 3,765 community college and four-year college students in 12 states between March and May.
Of those who said they experienced food insecurity, 32 percent believed that hunger or housing problems had an impact on their education. For half of them, it meant not buying a required textbook or missing a class. For a quarter, it meant dropping a class. The study recommends that colleges look into the creation of food pantries, community gardens and food recovery programs to help alleviate student food insecurity.
CCBC does not formally track student hunger, according to college spokesperson Jacquie Lucy, but each of its three campuses offer a food pantry for students in need. The Catonsville pantry gives away, on average, 267 nonperishable and canned foods each month, Lucy said.
The college is taking part in #GivingTuesday on Nov. 29, an international campaign to promote giving, by collecting money for the food pantries. Almost $1,000 of the college's $1,200 goal has been raised, Lucy said.
As the holiday season arrives, Butler takes money he has set aside from each of his paychecks to organize a Thanksgiving meal. In his first year, the dinner had about a dozen students.
Now in his fifth year, he wanted to expand the dinner. He got the office of student conduct involved, partnering with Tony Alleyne, the school's student conduct administrator, and raised $588 in donations and several volunteers willing to help on the day of the dinner, Tuesday, the last day of classes before Thanksgiving break.
About 50 students waited outside as the final preparations were made. Butler arrived with trays of turkey, ham, chicken and sides, before opening the doors. Eight tables quickly filled up.
More than 300 students attended the dinner, known as the Holiday Family Feast, in a room inside the Student Services Center.
"I am so happy," Butler said as the first students in line were at their tables with friends eating and enjoying each other's company. "This is what it's all about. We care, we love them and we're good to go."
After a brief introduction from Butler and Alleyne and a blessing of the food, the students formed a line that went out the door. Some of the 27 student and staff volunteers distributed the food.
Tianna Monee, a 20-year-old from Milford Mill studying psychology, said she has no plans for Thanksgiving dinner because her family can't afford it. She's the oldest of six.
Her plate was filled with chicken, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese and vegetables. Next to it were two desserts — pie and cake. She said if it weren't for Butler's meal, she would have gone through the day hungry.
"My friends from school, they're like my family," she said. "This is my Thanksgiving, really."
As Butler walked around table to table, students expressed their gratitude to a man they call "Pops."
"He gives hope for people who may think they don't have a chance to make it in life or be great," said Michael Dunn, a 17-year-old from Catonsville who is studying engineering, who came to support his friends who are unable to afford a traditional Thanksgiving meal.
Diane Drake, director of admissions for the college, served jerk chicken. She wasn't surprised to learn of Butler's efforts and wanted to be part of it.
"It helps me to be thankful for what I have and to be able to give back," she said.
William Dorsey, a 20-year-old general studies student from Windsor Mill, helped set up the room and deliver food before the dinner began. Watching his peers eat, he was in awe of what Butler and Alleyne put together. He described Butler as fatherly, a guardian and a visionary for the school's culture.
"They inspire me," he said. "The longer I sit here and I just look around at what they have developed, it just makes me want to replicate it and go a step forward."