Those who eat together, stay together — UCF Recreation and Wellness Center, UCF Dining Services and 4 Rivers Smokehouse teamed up to bring 500 students healthy lunches during the 4th annual Gather Luncheon on Wednesday. Photo by Sade Teel.

The 4th annual Gather Luncheon brought 500 students with empty stomachs to the heart of UCF’s main campus Wednesday to build a sense of community and spark conversation.

Students gathered on Memory Mall to eat healthy 3-course meals and share their thoughts on what “gather” and “community” mean to them.

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UCF sophomore business management major Jabeiro Brown said he thinks of the term “gather” as a way to unite.

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“Gathering brings a sense of community,” Brown said. “There is something for everyone at UCF.”

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Large letters spelled out the word “gather” across Memory Mall, where students could take a flower and a notecard with their thoughts to decorate the large letters.

Scott Mauro, manager of Marketing and Communications for RWC, said the community-building exercise is new to this year’s event.

Wellness and Health Promotion Services, UCF Dining Services and 4 Rivers Smokehouse teamed up to bring 500 students healthy lunches during the 4th annual Gather Luncheon on Wednesday. Students described what “community” meant to them on index carts Photo by Sade Teel.

Wellness and Health Promotion Services, UCF Dining Services and 4 Rivers Smokehouse teamed up to bring healthy meals to the first 500 students that attended the event. 

Foods consisted of fruit, quinoa salad, barbeque sandwich and more. 

The luncheon also offered allergen-free, vegan and vegetarian options to students. 

UCF Dining Services chef manager, Chris Yacavone, emphasized the importance of incorporating healthy foods in students’ lives and the significance of the fruit and bulgur salad that was served. 

“The salad is high in fiber, multiple vitamins, low sugar and high in minerals — great for your college student,” Yacavone said. 

Those who eat together, stay together — Wellness and Health Promotion Services, UCF Dining Services and 4 Rivers Smokehouse teamed up to bring 500 students healthy lunches during the 4th annual Gather Luncheon on Wednesday. Photo by Sade Teel.

Many students described the importance of a healthy lifestyle, especially while being a fast-paced college student. 

Nicholas Norman, junior mechanical engineering major, described the human body as a car and food as gas you put in the car. 

“You want to put good gas in your car so it can run,” Norman said. “The same thing applies to your body.”

Maureen Hawkins, director of UCF Wellness and Health Promotion Services, is one of the members that teamed up with partners to start this event four years ago.

“Eating a meal together is very intimate,” Hawkins said. “We are wellness services, so we always want to make sure we add nutrient-dense foods to people’s diets.” 

Those who eat together, stay together — Wellness and Health Promotion Services, UCF Dining Services and 4 Rivers Smokehouse teamed up to bring 500 students healthy lunches during the 4th annual Gather Luncheon on Wednesday. Photo by Sade Teel.

A report released by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab in March 2018 reported that nearly 40% of students at 4-year institutions face concerns when it came to affording their next balanced meal.

Nearly 36% of students at 4-year institutions worried they would run out of food before being able to buy more, according to the report.

Andrea Snead, assistant director of the UCF Recreation and Wellness Center, expressed her concern for providing students with meals and reminding them that there are resources at UCF to help them. 

“Maybe some students didn’t know how they were going to eat at all today and now we can at least provide a free meal,” Snead said. “I want every single student to know that they matter. Someone does care … we all care.” 

Snead said overall, the event went great and served as an opportunity for students to meet more people, expand and learn more about themselves and each other.

Those who eat together, stay together — Wellness and Health Promotion Services, UCF Dining Services and 4 Rivers Smokehouse teamed up to bring 500 students healthy lunches during the 4th annual Gather Luncheon on Wednesday. Photo by Sade Teel.

“Community equals education because you learn from everyone,” Snead said. “They may not look like you, talk like you or act like you, but you can learn so much from one person just by sitting down next to them.”