Ohio universities offer sustainable ways to combat student food and housing insecurity
College student on campus. Getty Images.
The idea of college students with limited money surviving on Ramen noodles and domestic lager has become a common joke, but universities in Ohio take student food and housing insecurity seriously and many have built up programs to address the issues.
The University of Akron, Kent State University, and Ohio State University offer unique programs to assist students with housing and food insecurity. The programs they offer highlight sustainability and building self-efficacy of their students.
Amanda Woodyard is the Community Engaged Learning program director at Kent State University.
“Just entering into the college environment does not mean that you have all your basic needs taken care of. And students who don’t get their basic needs taken care of are not going to be their best selves,” Woodyard said,
Woodyard helps oversee a program called Flashes Fighting Hunger. She said that the university repurposes food that would otherwise go to waste by farmers, grocers, and the school cafeteria to stock their pantry for students. In 2022, they have diverted over 105,000 pounds of food that would have otherwise gone to a landfill.
“Not only is this only an effort and organization for food security, and you know humans, but also it’s great for sustainability and the environment,” Woodyard said.“With that food that is being recovered, we’re able to serve thousands of students, faculty, staff, and community members every year.”
Woodyard said Kent State’s pantry sees about 120 households a week, 50 weeks out of the year. About three out of five of those visitors are students. They get food from the Akron-Canton regional food banks. They do not turn anyone away.
“A lot of people tend to think that college students automatically come from a place of privilege because they’re a student at an institution of higher education. But one of the greatest things about Kent State is we provide access to a wide variety of students who come from a lot of different backgrounds.”
Another college that takes advantage of resources in the Akron-Canton area is The University of Akron.
Alison Doehring is the director of Zip Assist, a campus information hub for their students. According to her, the university has the Campus Cupboard program. The program offers grocery shopping, seven pantry locations across campus and bi-weekly large-scale food giveaways.They also hosts pop up programming for clothing and sustainable houseware giveaways.
“The more students learn about the resources the more we do our sort of campaign work around destigmatizing asking for help, destigmatizing using the resources that are available. I think so are contributors,” Doehring said.
Doehring said the University of Akron has served over 700 unique students through Campus Cupboard this semester. Since August, they have seen an uptick in the need for hygiene and laundry products along with the constant need for food. In both their Help-A-Zip program and Campus Cupboard they are seeing a 30% increase of students coming forward and letting the program know that they have a concern.
“Sometimes we work students who are just trying to make ends meet, who are struggling and so if they can come to our doors and get a bag of groceries and that gives them an extra 20 bucks in their budget to be able to pay rent on time, then we feel like we are being really successful with helping our students,” Doehring said.
Doehring also said that ZipAssist combats housing insecurity by working with residence life & housing to provide safe and comfortable housing for a student who may have an emergency housing need. As of today, four beds are available for students to use.
“I think that it would be remiss not to acknowledge the pandemic and the past two years and the variations of employment that people have experienced as another contributor. When you look at the demographics of the University of Akron students, we have a lot of students who sort of come from more of our local community. We have a good portion of pell eligible students and even under resourced students,” Doehring said.
In addition to universities putting food on the students’ tables and a bed to sleep in, Ohio State University strives to teach students life skills.
Buckeye Food Alliance is a client choice food pantry on campus for students. In the 2020-2021 school year, the pantry received 5,160 visits.
On Oct. 27, the pantry began a series of six cooking classes that handled topics such as knife skills, kitchen safety, and cooking meals with plant based alternatives.
In a press release, Buckeye Food Alliance coordinator Nick Fowler said food insecurity is a real challenge for college campuses across the country. He said that he wants their organization to expand their programming to cover other food related issues.
“Historically, food pantries have been wonderful for getting food into the hands of people who need it,” Fowler said. “There’s a large area of growth for teaching folks what to do with food. Sometimes we’ll see beautiful produce come through and a student will say, ‘I don’t know what to do with this once I get home.’”
Each university offers information about these resources through their student life websites.
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