Montana State University

studentlivin'@msu: Hunger to help spurs student volunteer

December 1, 2004 -- by Annette Trinity-Stevens, MSU News Service

MSU student James Racine leads a recent meeting of the Students Against Hunger and Homelessness on the Bozeman campus. (MSU photo by Erin Raley.)   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
James Racine could give the impression he's like many other college students. He skis, plays the drums and lives in a fraternity.

But then, check out the bleached dreadlocks and the earrings. Listen to him talk about his Christian values, his passion for philosophy and the hundreds of hours spent trying to eradicate hunger in the Gallatin Valley.

The only thing typical about Racine might be an idealism that no one has stepped on yet, said Kathy Tanner, head of Montana State University's Office of Community Involvement.

Tanner works with dozens of student volunteers each year, and Racine is no different in his sense of optimism and commitment to social service, she said.

"These students are sowing their oats, in a sense, with what they can do with that optimism," said Tanner.

Two years ago Racine, 20, signed on as an AmeriCorps volunteer, which commits him to 900 hours of community service in exchange for a $2,500 student scholarship and a small monthly living stipend.

Racine's service is with the Gallatin Valley Food Bank. He has organized a group--Students Against Hunger and Homelessness--that supplies a steady cadre of volunteers to stock shelves, fill food boxes and unload trucks, said food bank director Heather Grenier.

Racine also has led the "Trick or Treat so Kids Can Eat" drive, which this year netted 1,400 pounds of supplies for the Food Bank, a doubling of last year's donations, Grenier said.

While many students contribute to Food Bank efforts, Racine has been more energetic and more emotionally attached to the cause than others, Grenier said.

"James is the only one so far to create some long-term benefits," Grenier said.

A Minnesota native, Racine decided to attend college in Bozeman while visiting the town on a ski trip in high school. He moved here not knowing anyone--a conscious decision that forced him out of his comfort zone, he said.

He started in physics but soon switched to philosophy for its pursuit of truth and wisdom, he said.

"People always ask what I will do with that," he grinned.

Seek a path in counseling, psychology or youth pastoring comes his answer. "Philosophy is really a great platform for that," he added.

He cites his mother, who has a master's degree in theology, as a major influence in his life. A teacher at a private high school, his mother has modeled how to give to people, not just through third-party relief organizations but with her own hand, Racine said.

She's also shown how to live in a world of relative wealth and privilege and still care deeply for the needs of others. Racine calls it living in the world and not of the world.

"It's not easy, it's really not," Racine asserts. "I constantly have to reevaluate my life and ask, 'Do I need this or could someone else benefit'?"

While praising AmeriCorps as a great program, Racine also said it's been hard.

"It can be discouraging sometimes, because no matter how strong your efforts are, you can't change other people," he said. "You can't always measure your progress, and you can't force people to help."

Bouncing between hopefulness and discouragement is common among her volunteers, Tanner said. But the idealism brings them back, which is why Tanner encourages Racine and the others to hang onto it.

"That's yours," she tells them, "and no one can take that from you unless you let them."

Contact: Kathy Tanner, (406) 994-6902 or