(Ohio News Connection) – Colleges and universities in Ohio are exploring ways to respond to hunger on campus and break down barriers to student success.
Melissa Gilbert is associate dean of Experimental Learning with The Promise House at Otterbein University, just one of roughly a dozen food pantries on Ohio college campuses. She explained college hunger highlights the broader issue of food justice.
“Our hope is that we never need a pantry again. And we need to find a solution to that,” Gilbert said. “Pantries are a Band-Aid approach but they’re a necessity, and we’ve got to have something to make sure nobody shows up to class hungry or is studying for an exam and hasn’t eaten in 24 hours.”
Solutions include increased access to food stamps for college students, as well as ensuring every student has a meal plan.
At the Commodore Cupboard at Lorain County Community College, coordinator Sarah Hyde Pinner said reducing stigma is also key. And their Champions Program trains students and staff on food insecurity.
“What they can do, how this is actionable; how a faculty member could make a strong referral in a way that respects the dignity of all of the folks who are in this situation,” Hyde said.
Colleges and universities around Ohio are fighting student hunger with food drives, community gardens, and fundraisers. Some also recover unused food from cafeterias and private events to be donated elsewhere, or offer end of semester meal plan swaps so students can donate unused meal credits to others.
Stacey Rusterholz, assistant director for Community Engagement with The Promise House, said they also offer peer advocacy, volunteer opportunities and educational workshops. And they connect students to community financial supports, mental health counseling and clothing.
“The goal is to help students be successful and be able to graduate college, because finances are one the things that cause students to drop out,” Rusterholz said. “So just having a center that’s inclusive and welcoming is really important to helping our students be successful and to graduate. ”
The Commodore Cupboard offers similar services and partners with the Women’s Link program, which connects students to housing services, legal aid, childcare and emergency loans. Marisa Vernon White, associate provost at Lorain County Community College, said the programs will join in the fall to better serve students.
“They may say that they’re going to access that service but then feel embarrassed about doing so, or struggle to find the time to do so,” White said. “So by putting those two things under the same roof, it’s really going to allow us to look at their situation much more holistically and line them up with some other things that they may not have considered.”
She added their work doesn’t go unnoticed, as some students who have utilized the food pantry have returned after graduation and paid it forward through donations.
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