Elizabeth Derner
Biological Sciences

When Harjeev Singh, a junior at MU, took a public health class in 2021, he learned about trying to prevent health crises before they happen.

Singh, who plans to become a physician, saw a connection between this mission of public health and his other passion: community service.

Last year Singh founded an organization, Helping Hands, to help prevent students and community members’ financial situations from negatively affecting their health and education. The organization’s largest project has been collecting donations of textbooks and school supplies, then distributing them to students at the Student Center.

At the end of spring semester, Helping Hands received 200 textbooks and enough donations to make 300 school supply kits. The organization held a distribution event Aug. 18-19 in the Student Center, where students picked up supply kits and any textbooks they needed that were available.

Students can still pick up supplies throughout the year in the Center for Student Involvement inside the Student Center. The organization plans to hold more collection drives at the end of the fall and spring semesters.

“I don’t know what they’re going through,” Singh said, “but I want to help them in any way I can.”

Singh hopes to expand his nonprofit organization to other college campuses across Missouri and the rest of the country. He hopes that over time, the cost of buying books and supplies — which can often cost students several hundred dollars per semester — becomes less of a financial barrier for students.

Singh’s faculty adviser for the club, Jenna Wintemberg, was his professor for the public health class he took freshman year. Wintemberg said when Singh told her about his idea for Helping Hands, it connected with her view on financial security and public health.

“Oftentimes, (improving community health) doesn’t look like getting more doctors’ buildings, more hospitals,” Wintemberg said. “What that looks like is addressing the underlying root causes — poverty, homelessness, food insecurity. Those are better ways, in the long term and at the population level, to improve health outcome.”

The organization held several volunteering events with the children’s emergency shelter Rainbow House, Room at the Inn homeless shelter and food banks last school year. Singh said they will continue volunteering in the community this year and hope to collaborate on projects with other organizations on campus as well.

Helping Hands’ textbook and school supply distribution is part of the Tiger Education Initiative they created. Singh started the initiative after hearing fellow students complain about the high cost of college textbooks. He researched the issue and read a 2017 survey that found that 13% of Mizzou students considered leaving because of the cost of course materials. Singh said when thinking about Mizzou’s entire undergraduate population, 13% is a big number, and he wanted to help lower it.

“I wanted to relate (public health) to trying to create an initiative to help prevent students from feeling that financial insecurity,” Singh said, “and trying to help them succeed, so that way they’re able to succeed in their future careers.”

For Helping Hands’ school supply and textbook collection at the end of the spring 2022 semester, the Mizzou Store donated items like binders, paper filler and highlighters with small defects that couldn’t be sold in the store but were in otherwise perfect condition. Singh set up collection bins at the Student Center and Memorial Union for students to donate supplies. He also got permission from Tyler Page, director of MU Residential Life, to set up 15 collection bins at dorms across campus.

“This was a request coming from a resident that would directly and positively impact Mizzou students,” Page said, “so it was definitely in line with our mission.”

Students donated textbooks and school supplies they didn’t need at the end of the year — everything from desk lamps to lab safety goggles.