Celebrating a program that helps Virginia Tech students facing food insecurity, university leaders and donors on Saturday held a ceremonial opening of the facility that now houses The Market of Virginia Tech.

The Market is a food assistance program launched in September 2020 thanks to $1.5 million donated by alumni couple Hema Sanghani ’99 and Mehul Sanghani ’98 of McLean, Virginia. The program has attracted hundreds of additional donations, including a recent five-figure gift from former Hokie quarterback Tyrod Taylor, now with the New York Giants.

On Saturday, Taylor joined with the Sanghanis, Virginia Tech President Tim Sands, and other university leaders to cut the ribbon for The Market facility. The facility, which has been in use since the start of this 2021-22 academic year, is on University City Boulevard a short distance from campus.

“We have always felt a certain burden by those who experience food insecurity,” said Hema Sanghani, who earned her Virginia Tech degree in finance. “Mehul and I both grew up with very humble beginnings. Our parents both immigrated to this country with practically nothing but the clothes on their back. We may not have had much growing up, and our parents even less, but I can confidently say there was always food on the table. Food is such a basic necessity, and one that many of us often take for granted. There is an unfortunate stigma for those that ask for help with food.

“We hope this effort will inspire other campuses to take a deeper look into this issue challenging so many of our young students today. We see a lot of room to grow The Market into something even greater and look forward to working together with Virginia Tech for a very long time.”

Tyrod Taylor ceremonial opening of The Market
Former Virginia Tech and current NFL quarterback Tyrod Taylor (at center) returned to Blacksburg to participate in the ceremonial opening of The Market of Virginia Tech. Taylor's foundation contributed to the program, continuing a long list of food-related causes to which Taylor has contributed to in the past few years. Photo by Chiravi Patel for Virginia Tech.

Taylor’s donation continues his tradition of philanthropic efforts toward fighting hunger. In 2020, Taylor’s foundation made a $25,000 donation to the Virginia Peninsula Foodbank in his hometown of Hampton, Virginia, and last year his foundation teamed with Kroger and the Virginia Peninsula Foodbank to organize a drive-thru food pantry at Hampton High School, where Taylor played and graduated before coming to Virginia Tech.

“I’m proud to be here today representing my family, my foundation, and supporting a cause that is near to my heart as we strive to tackle hunger,” said Taylor, who earned his degree in residential property management in 2011. “I believe that all students deserve the opportunity to pursue their education without the distraction of where their next meal may come from, and so it brings me great joy to stand in the gap with all of you here today. I look forward to many years of supporting The Market at Virginia Tech and using my platform to shed light on our efforts as we make a difference here in Blacksburg.”

This fall’s move to a mall frequently used by students offers increased flexibility for participants. Program participants select the foods that best fit their dietary needs from a variety of choices on-site including produce, proteins, dairy, and pantry items.

“Stakeholders across Virginia Tech listened to what students were telling us and have been working together to find ways to meet their needs,” Virginia Tech President Tim Sands said. “We want every student at Virginia Tech to succeed and thrive, and part of that is making sure their basic needs are being met. The Market is one way we can help support our students.”

In the 2020-21 academic year alone, The Market provided more than 14,000 meals. The program is run by VT Engage: The Center for Leadership and Service Learning and the Dean of Students Office, both units within Student Affairs.

The Market’s team members continue to explore more ways to support students enrolled in the program. Fundraising for the program is ongoing to help with those efforts.

“We want every student to have the same opportunity to succeed,” said Mehul Sanghani, a Blacksburg native who serves on the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors and earned degrees in industrial and systems engineering and in psychology. “We hope The Market of Virginia Tech can provide resources for those who desperately need this and help ensure that every Hokie has an equal path toward success.

"We are grateful that our alma mater supported our vision for this initiative and humbled by the tireless efforts of student volunteers whose hard work have made this a reality. We are proud to see that The Market is already having such an immediate impact and that many others are stepping forward to help by giving as well, in keeping with Virginia Tech’s motto: Ut Prosim” [That I May Serve].

Written by Jimmy Robertson