A drive to end hunger: How a local program found national success


Aabha Joshi

Members of Pleasant Valley’s Spartan Assembly enthusiastically collect donations for the Student Hunger Drive during a home football game on Aug. 30.

Sam Rothbardt, Social Media Manager

As the saying goes, sometimes the littlest things end up making the biggest difference. Such is the case for one local man’s once small idea.

For years in the Quad Cities, Pete Pohlmann was a household name. As the former owner of the area’s largest car dealership, Pohlmann was known as a successful businessman. But in 1986, he decided he wanted to do more for the community and founded the Student Hunger Drive.

The Quad City Student Hunger Drive’s mission is to collect food for those in need throughout the area and to help students feel excited about volunteering in the community. Over the past 33 years, the organization has evolved into one of the community’s largest social action projects. 

In its first years, only six schools in Iowa participated in this friendly competition to better their communities. Today, 18 high schools in the Quad City area alone take part in the drive by bringing in food and raising money for the River Bend Food Bank.

After enjoying several years of retired life, Pohlmann wanted to make sure the Student Hunger Drive would be around for other areas to replicate. “We wrote a handbook so people in other places can do this to help their communities.”

And communities around the nation began taking notice.

The handbook detailing his program is used in communities throughout the country, including ones much larger than the Quad Cities. The city of Charlotte, North Carolina has a population of over 850,000, and was able to use Pohlmann’s Student Hunger Drive handbook to start the program in their community in 2010. Since then, students in the Charlotte area have raised over one million pounds of food for food insecure people in the Charlotte area. 

With national participation in Pohlmann’s program growing, students have donated over 16 million pounds of food since it origin in the 80s.

Giving students an opportunity to help the community was a main reason for starting the Student Hunger Drive. “Seeing the kids so enthusiastic about helping people is a great thing for the community,” commented Pohlmann. This program is one that helps people in need and the student volunteers. Student Hunger Drive allows students to see direct results of their actions in local communities.

The annual competition raises awareness for hunger in the Quad Cities and around the United States. On the final day, more than 400,000 pounds of food is collected and over 200 student volunteers are ready to help distribute donations. The Student Hunger Drive contributed approximately 625,000 meals in 2018. Pleasant Valley High School, through collections at extracurricular events and classroom competitions, led the charge by collecting close to 60,000 pounds of food.

Not only does the Student Hunger Drive help those who cannot afford food, but it gives students a chance to see how their volunteer work tangibly helps a community. Aabha Joshi is the leader of the Student Hunger Drive at PV. “It really benefits people in this area. Students feel better about donating when they can see results in their community,” she said. 

With a rising number of food insecure people in the Quad City area, Joshi believes the Student Hunger Drive is the most important program the student council organizes each year, promoting the idea of volunteerism and reminding students that the strongest communities are those that care for each other.