January 21, 2019  

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Eagle’s Nest Food Pantry Receives Contribution from Secret Society

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A philanthropic, tradition-rich – and mysterious – campus group has made a trademark donation to one of the University of Southern Mississippi’s newer initiatives.

The Gold Leaf, a “secret society,” has given $777.77 to the Eagle’s Nest Food Pantry, a project started in 2016 by the School of Social Work to address food insecurity among needy students and staff.

The Gold Leaf Society often makes donations in that amount, or some variation that includes 7s, such as the $17,777.77 it contributed to the construction of the Gateway Centennial at the main entrance to the Hattiesburg campus to celebrate the University’s 100th anniversary in 2010.

“I am always impressed with the kindness and generosity of people and groups such as the Gold Leaf that respond to identified needs of our students,” says Dr. Tim Rehner, director of the School of Social Work. “I am also really impressed that the food pantry has become such a great vehicle through which donations can be channeled to address food insecurity on campus.”

About the Eagle’s Nest

The Eagle’s Nest, located in the basement of The Hub building, allows clients to choose what they need, whether it’s canned vegetables, bread, or food for their pets. Normal hours are 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays and Fridays and 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Wednesdays. For more information, call 601.520.9733.

In 2017, the pantry had approximately 5,000 client visits. It averages 50 visits each day it is open.

“We are humbled that the Gold Leaf Society choose the Eagle's Nest as a recipient for a financial gift, particularly since their mission is to select those they believe bring honor to the University,” says Dr. Tamara Hurst, assistant professor in the School of Social Work.

“All Eagle's Nest interns and volunteers strive to make the pantry as welcoming and supportive as possible for our clients in an effort to ease the challenges they are facing. We could not consistently provide the USM community with much-needed resources without the support of our donors and community partners, and we are grateful,” says Hurst, who is also the faculty adviser to the Eagle’s Nest and the Student Association of Social Workers.

About the Gold Leaf Society

The first known communication from the Gold Leaf was in 2005 to then-Vice President of Student Affairs Joe Paul. He received a letter directing him to a check hidden on the 7th floor of the Johnson Science Tower, to be used to help a deserving student in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Shortly after, a large decorative stone appeared on the lawn of Danforth Chapel, bearing an emblem with a leaf surrounded by seven stars and the year 1877; it is believed to represent the origin of the Mississippi Teachers Association, which helped found the institution as Mississippi Normal College. Donations, both large and small, have continued ever since.

Barbara Ross, the former director of Union and Programs who retired in 2011 after nearly 40 years at USM, has become the unofficial historian for the Gold Leaf Society. She has corresponded through a post office box with the unknown members, and her notebook of those records is more than an inch thick.

In addition to direct monetary gifts, the Gold Leaf has also funded a scholarship in Ross’ name and Gold Leaf medallions that are awarded annually to seven members of the USM community each Founder’s Day.

“They really do try to find good causes,” says Ross, who is quick to mention – multiple times – that she is not a member of the secret society. She had to reiterate that point, she says, when she wrote to the group and successfully secured a $25,000 donation – split up into seven payments – for the naming rights to Room 227 when the Thad Cochran Center opened in 2007. “People thought I knew who they were or that I was a part of them.”

She hopes the secret of the group’s membership is never revealed. “Then the mystic side of it would go,” she says of the possibility of members being identified. “There’s always this fascination about not knowing, and it always makes the story better.

“I don’t think people really think I know. I certainly don’t have the money to do what they’re doing. I really have no clue.”