By Charlotte McArthur
Most Mondays for the past four years, Tiffany Turner could be found sorting cans and packing food boxes at TABLE. She did this because alleviating food insecurity is a passion born from personal experience. Now a senior majoring in public policy and minoring in social and economic justice, and marine science, Turner exemplifies the essence of Carolina community involvement through her passions for service, teaching others the value of healthy eating, and providing scholarships and opportunities to undocumented students.
Turner, a 2018 graduate from Greensboro, North Carolina, spent her time at Carolina serving the community as a Bonner Leader and Buckley Public Service Scholar participant and was awarded an inaugural Scott D. MacDonald Community Service Fellowship. Since July of 2017, she has served as the executive director for the nonprofit Pupusas for Education. Pupusas for Education is the sister venture to So Good Pupusas, a food truck and catering company started by a UNC alumna that uses its profits to provide scholarships to undocumented students.
“Nonprofits touch every person’s life in some way, shape or form, and for me, they had a particularly strong impact,” Turner said. “When I was younger, I had a big sister from the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America program and received weekly food bags from food pantries. As soon as my family was in a more financially stable situation, I began to do my part to pay it forward and help organizations think through how we could take their impact to the next level.”
Turner said that while she is grateful for the role nonprofits played in her life, she often felt frustrated about the lack of representation in their staff and the way in which nonprofits approached their work.
“Many of the food pantries that served weekly meals were not thinking much about culturally relevant and appropriate foods, and I wanted to change that thinking,” Turner said. “Once I started this work, I knew it was the work that I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
In addition to participating in the Buckley Public Service Scholars program, Turner served in the Campus Y’s Bonner Leaders program where she worked with community partner TABLE to alleviate food insecurity in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community. In the summers after her sophomore and junior years, Turner was a fellow in the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation Fellowship and later served as the food systems team senior fellow. In class, Turner connected the dots between her community work and academics through two APPLES Service-Learning courses, Nonprofit Consulting and Public Policy Clinic, and Philanthropy as a Tool for Social Change.
“If it were not for the Buckley Public Service Scholars program and the Bonner Leaders program, I may not have settled on a major course of study that aligned with my values and passions — public policy,” Turner said. “I can attribute much of my success in college to these two programs and the people behind the scenes who believed in me and encouraged me.”
Turner added that she is happy to have helped change the dominant narrative in the spaces that she has been in and has worked to ensure that the voices that needed to be at the table were heard. The community was always at the forefront of her work.
“Overall, I think I have grown so much from these experiences,” Turner said. “In teaching others about healthy eating, I also learned about it myself. In working to fight for equity in education for undocumented students, I’ve grown closer to the students we’ve worked with and learned much about mentorship. In all of these things, I have become more vocal and less afraid to speak up for what I believe in.”
After graduation, Turner plans to stay with Pupusas for Education for the summer to pilot a Summit and Fellowship program for undocumented students. In August, she will move to New York City to conduct a yearlong fellowship at FoodCorps, a nonprofit on a mission to work with communities to connect kids to healthy food in school, through the Newman’s Own Foundation Fellowship program. Turner plans to return to North Carolina after her fellowship year with hopes of continuing her work with Pupusas for Education, taking part in another nonprofit program or attending graduate school.