Baylor and University of Central Florida cheerleaders were among volunteers from the schools who packed boxes of food for the elderly in need in the Phoenix area.

Staff photo— Jerry Larson

Hunger in America — the hidden reality. It is a relentless reminder — especially to the working poor and their children — that neighbors need to pull together and lend a helping hand to families struggling to meet the basic necessities of life.

In the midst of Fiesta Bowl festivities last week, Baylor students, parents and administrators gathered together in northwest Phoenix to do a small part in lending that helping hand. Baylor Bears became good neighbors to our gracious hosts in the Valley of the Sun.

Organized by the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, both the University of Central Florida and Baylor University collaboratively formed a fast-moving, highly efficient assembly line to pack boxes of nourishing food for the elderly needy in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Side by side, UCF Knights (shouting “Charge on”) and Baylor Bears (with loud “Sic ’em’s!”) packed more than 1,800 boxes, each containing food sufficient to supply a family of four for several days.

This noble work is carried on year-round under the umbrella of the St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance — the oldest food bank in the United States. Like most worthy projects, the alliance began with the vision of a single person — John van Hengel. From its humble beginnings in 1967, the St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance has expanded dramatically to serve two-thirds of Arizona’s counties, distributing enough food last year to provide 70 million meals to needy families and individuals. No fewer than 90,000 Phoenix volunteers leave the comforts of home or office to help meet the continuing problem of hunger in Arizona.

Closer to home, the Texas Hunger Initiative — a project of Baylor’s School of Social Work — collaborates with food banks around the country to ensure food security for all Americans, especially our residents of the Lone Star State. Led by director Jeremy Everett, the Texas Hunger Initiative encourages food bank providers, faith communities, the corporate sector and government officials to work closely together to employ best practices to ensure maximum efficiencies. That boils down to greater impact for the public good.

It is frequently said that — in our beloved Texas — the three “f’s” predominate: faith, family and football. As Baylor’s 2013 football season drew to a close in the beautiful desert valley of Phoenix and Glendale, Baylor Nation looks back with understandable pride on the most successful football season in our university’s long history. We can also take pride that, as 2013 was drawing to a close, Baylor Nation said thank you to the people of Arizona by a New Year’s Eve service project to benefit some of that beautiful state’s neediest residents.

This is Baylor Nation at its best as we welcome the new year.

Ken Starr is president of Baylor University.