Buddy packs funded by faculty laughs

“When he isn’t working, he can be seen getting road rage — please welcome Jared Young!”

The master of ceremonies exited stage right, and in his stead, a redheaded man with a goatee strolled into the spotlight as the third contestant of the UpChuckles Faculty Comedy Show. In his bid to be crowned Funniest Faculty Member On Campus, he grabbed the mic and told jokes about not having a doctorate and the ills of social media.

This was the beginning of Jared Young’s redemption arc. In the inaugural Faculty Comedy Show two years ago, to his recollection, he was ironically bestowed a different award: Youngest Grumpy Old Man.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s right, that’s good,’” Young said with a laugh.

Young is the Del and Norma Robison Planetarium director and the coordinator of summer academies and institutes, though he had been a communication professor before taking up those helms. He was also an elementary school teacher before returning to his alma mater, Truman State University.

His teaching background is part of what led him to participate in the contest.

“You know, I can stand in front of a class and teach for hours on end, but can I stand on a stage and tell a joke and get somebody else to laugh?” Young said he had asked himself at the time.

This is the question professors have had to answer for the past three years when they vy for the Funniest Faculty Member On Campus crown.

The inaugural UpChuckles Faculty Comedy Show was at the end of March 2017 at William Matthew Middle School. In that first show, five Truman faculty and staff members competed for the most laughs, including University President Sue Thomas and Young. UpChuckles adviser Jay Self said UpChuckles started putting on this show because the club wanted to use comedy to give back to the community. The problem was figuring out how to get people to pay for comedy when UpChuckles also offers free shows throughout the year.

“Well, wouldn’t it be a great idea if we could get some faculty or staff in on this?” Self said. “And then of course the first hope was to get the president of the University to do it, and Sue Thomas was great and accepted.”

The show took off from there. In that first year, the show raised $694. Then it moved to Baldwin Auditorium the next year and raised $853. The goal for the third show was to raise over $1,000.

Self said the third annual UpChuckles Faculty Comedy Show raised $1,098. For three years, all funds raised have gone to the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri’s Buddy Pack program, a cause Self sees in action day to day.

“We watched as our kids were going through primary school — we knew that there were other kids where the only food they got on the weekend was the stuff they took home with them from the Buddy Pack program,” Self said. “For kids, that’s really difficult. It’s really difficult for a kid to do well in school if they’re hungry. It’s hard to focus on history or math if you’re hungry.”

The Buddy Pack program provides weekend meals to elementary and middle school students who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches. A Buddy Pack contains two entrees, fruit cups, a snack bar, cereal, milk and peanut butter.

A $5 donation covers the cost of a Buddy Pack, and a student in the program will take home 36 Buddy Packs per school year, according to Teresa Ross, Food Bank of Central and Northeast Missouri regional coordinator. Across all three years, the UpChuckles Faculty Comedy Show has raised $2,645 for the Buddy Pack program, and 97.5% of all proceeds go toward making Buddy Packs. This means, in total, UpChuckles has donated enough money to make over 515 Buddy Packs, which would provide more than 14 kids with weekend meals for an entire school year — all in Adair County.

“Everything that’s raised in a county stays in that county,” Ross said. “It’s earmarked just for Adair County.”

Ross said Kirksville’s Buddy Pack program serves 316 students, 130 of which attend either Kirksville Primary School or Ray Miller Elementary School. The rest of the participating students in Adair County attend either Adair County R-I Elementary School in Novinger or Adair County R-II School in Brashear.

Next year, the Novinger and Brashear schools will be shifting to a four-day school week, meaning the Buddy Pack program will be figuring out how to make its Buddy Packs work for students on a three-day weekend. Ross said the icy winter also made it difficult to get Buddy Packs to students this school year, especially now that classes might bleed into June.

“A lot of kids who do seek those Buddy Packs live in a very rural area, what could be considered a food desert, like 5-10 miles sometimes away from a grocery store,” Ross said. “So there is a real need around here.”

Young has his own ties to the Buddy Pack program that run deeper than his time teaching at Truman. Back when he taught in Schuyler County, he still lived in Kirksville, so he would help his school out by driving to the Kirksville hub of the food bank — one of its two stationary pantries — loading Buddy Packs into his pickup and trucking them up to Schuyler County. He renewed that connection last semester when he volunteered to build Buddy Packs for the first time.

“That was neat, because your community members are coming together for a good cause, they’re volunteering their time — it’s just pure,” Young said. “I like being part of those things.”

At the end of the Faculty Comedy Show, Self entered the stage with certificates in hand and turned to the contestants. He awarded superlatives to each faculty member one by one, none of them Funniest Faculty Member On Campus, until Young was one of two remaining without an award. Young had a 50/50 shot of completing his redemption arc.

Self asked both to step forward. Suspense hung in the air.

“The award for Best Oral Expert — oh, you know, like speeches and stuff — goes to Chris Outzen,” Self declared, handing the consolation certificate to its recipient.

Only Young remained. Self lifted the purple trophy behind him.

“That means your 2019 Funniest Faculty Member On Campus is Jared Young!”