The idea that college students with limited money survive on ramen noodles and local lager has become a common joke, but Ohio universities take student food and housing insecurity seriously and many have developed programs to address these issues to tackle
The University of Akron, Kent State University and Ohio State University offer unique programs to help students with housing and food insecurity. The programs they offer emphasize sustainability and building their students’ self-efficacy.
Amanda Woodyard is Program Director for Community Engaged Learning at Kent State University.
“Just entering the college environment does not mean that all basic needs are met. And students who don’t have 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 the university recycles food that would otherwise be wasted by farmers, grocers and the school cafeteria to fill its student pantry. In 2022, they diverted over 105,000 pounds of food that would otherwise have ended up in landfill.
“Not only is this a food security effort and organization, and you know the people, but it’s also great for sustainability and the environment,” Woodyard said. “The food we recover allows us to feed thousands of students, faculty, staff and community members each year.”
Woodyard said the Kent state pantry has about 120 households weekly, 50 weeks a year. About three out of five of these visitors are students. They source food from Akron-Canton regional food banks. You don’t turn anyone away.
“A lot of people think that because college students go to college, they automatically come from a privileged background. But one of the great things about Kent State is that we offer access to a variety of students from many different backgrounds.
Another college utilizing the resources in the Akron Canton region is the University of Akron.
Alison Doehring is the director of Zip Assist, a campus information center for her students. According to her, the university has the campus cupboard program. The program features grocery shopping, seven campus-wide pantries, and bi-weekly large-scale grocery giveaways. They also host clothing pop-up programs and sustainable homeware giveaways.
“As students learn more about the resources, we do our type of campaigning to destigmatize asking for help and destigmatize the resources available. I think contributors are, too,” said Doehring.
Doehring said the University of Akron served over 700 unique students through Campus Cupboard this semester. Since August, they have seen an increase in the need for hygiene and detergents, as well as the constant need for food. In both their Help-A-Zip program and Campus Cupboard, they’re seeing a 30 percent increase in students reaching out and letting the program know they have concerns.
“Sometimes we work with students who are just trying to make ends meet who are struggling, and if they can come to us and get a bag of groceries, they get an extra $20 in their budget to be able to pay the rent at that time.” , then we have the feeling that we are really successful when it comes to helping our students,” said Döhring.
Doehring also said ZipAssist is fighting housing insecurity by working with Residence Life & Housing to provide safe and comfortable housing for a student who may need emergency housing. As of today, four beds are available to students.
“I think it would be remiss not to acknowledge the pandemic and the last two years and the fluctuations in employment that people have experienced as another contributor. If you look at the University of Akron student demographics, we have many students who are more from our local community. We have a good portion of eligible students and even under-resourced students,” Döhring said.
In addition to universities putting food on students’ tables and a bed to sleep on, Ohio State University strives to teach students life skills.
Buckeye Food Alliance is a customer-preferred on-campus pantry for college students. In which 2020-2021 school year, the pantry received 5,160 visits.
On October 27, The Pantry launched a series of six cooking classes covering 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 he would like her organization to expand its program to cover other nutrition-related topics.
“In the past, pantries were wonderful for getting groceries into the hands of people who need them,” Fowler said. “There’s a big area of growth when it comes to teaching people about food. Sometimes we see beautiful products and a student says, ‘I don’t know what to do with this when I get home.’”
Each university provides information about these resources through their student life websites.
GET THE TOMORROW HEADLINES IN YOUR INBOX