Growing up, Mary Margaret Saulters lived in rural Tchula, Miss., 20 miles from the nearest grocery. In this food desert her interest in food security and social inequality first took root.
“My family was lucky because we could afford to grow organic vegetables and drive 30 minutes to the grocery,” said Saulters. “But my neighbors couldn’t. They relied on convenience stores, if that, for food. I grew up witnessing the disparity and inequality and the poor health that came from it, but I didn’t know what to do.”
The 2013 graduate has spent the last few years doing something about it. Through her work with the University of Mississippi College Corps, the anthropology and biology major identified and worked to remedy regional social and food inequalities earning the 2013 Governor’s Initiative for Volunteer Excellence Award for Outstanding College Student and a Newman Civic Fellow accolade from Campus Compact, a national coalition dedicated to promoting community service in higher education.
“I was attracted to College Corps because students work closely with one organization and really build relationships,” Saulters said. She served with Interfaith Compassion Ministry (ICM), a local nonprofit dedicated to helping the homeless, where she interviewed clients, assisted with grant proposals and organized a Plates to End Poverty fundraiser to buy an office computer.
ICM is a beneficiary of Saulters’ award-winning social entrepreneurship venture with Corps cohort Meghan Litten, a public policy leadership and liberal studies major from Petal, Miss. Their Grace(full) Totes are designed by artists and for every one sold, a homeless individual receives a bag filled with hygiene necessities. The enterprise won most sustainable business plan
in the UM School of Business Administration competition encouraging students to develop ideas into successful startups. Saulters helped start an on-campus food bank after realizing that the issue of food security, the subject of her award-winning honors thesis on the Mississippi Delta—judged best undergraduate submission at the Alabama-Mississippi Sociological Association annual conference—was even closer than she thought. “Faculty members who spoke to the Corps said, ‘We’ve had students who can’t afford to eat,’” Saulters said. “I was looking at these issues in other parts of the state, but this is on campus, and it really struck me.”
This fall she began graduate studies in sociology at the University of Missouri. “I had an incredible experience working with ICM, one that has made me want to continue,” she said.
“Academically, we are always searching for the Mary Margarets of the world,” said Albert Nylander, director of UM’s McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement. “Her intelligence and commitment to social justice addresses important food security issues and societal needs. Mary Margaret is so deserving of these awards.”
Saulters sums up her work. “Volunteering allows you to be a part of something bigger. During the first years of college, I focused on my goals and lost sight of my community role. Somewhere along the way I realized that though students are only here for a little while, we still have opportunities to contribute. It is important to honor that by getting involved, even in small ways, because it really is possible to make a difference.”