Ohio Universities Offer Sustainable Ways to Address Student Food and Housing Insecurity

The idea of ​​students with little money surviving on Ramen noodles and domestic lager has become a running joke, but Ohio universities take student food and housing insecurity seriously and many have put in place programs to solve the problems.

The University of Akron, Kent State University, and Ohio State University offer unique programs to help students with food and housing insecurity. The programs they offer emphasize sustainability and building self-efficacy in their students.

Amanda Woodyard is director of the Community Engaged Learning program at Kent State University.

“Just getting into the college environment doesn’t mean all your basic needs are taken care of. And students who aren’t having their basic needs met won’t be at their best,” Woodyard said.

Woodyard helps oversee a program called Flashes Fighting Hunger. She said the university reuses food that would otherwise be wasted by farmers, grocers and the school cafeteria to stock their pantries for students. In 2022, they diverted over 105,000 pounds of food that would otherwise have gone to landfill.

“Not only is this just a food safety effort and organization, and you know humans, but it’s also great for sustainability and the environment,” Woodyard said. “With this food that is recovered, we are able to serve thousands of students, faculty, staff and community members each year.

Woodyard said the Kent State pantry sees about 120 households per week, 50 weeks per year. About three out of five of these visitors are students. They get food from regional food banks in Akron-Canton. They don’t reject anyone.

“Many people tend to think that university students automatically come from a privileged place because they are students in a higher education institution. But one of the greatest things about Kent State is that we provide access to a wide variety of students who come from very 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, an on-campus information center for their students. According to her, the university has the Campus Cupboard program. The program offers grocery stores, seven on-campus food pantry locations, and large-scale food giveaways every two weeks. They also run pop-up programs for sustainable clothing and household items.

“The more students learn about resources, the more we do our kind of campaign work around de-stigmatization by asking for help, de-stigmatization by using available resources. I think contributors too,” Doehring said.

Doehring said the University of Akron served more than 700 unique students through Campus Cupboard this semester. Since August, they have seen an increase in the need for hygiene and laundry products as well as a constant need for food. In their Help-A-Zip and Campus Cupboard program, they see a 30% increase in students coming forward and letting the program know they have a problem.

“Sometimes we work with 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 another 20 bucks in their budget to being able to pay the rent on time, then we feel like we’re doing really well in helping our students,” Doehring said.

Doehring also said ZipAssist combats housing insecurity by working with residence life and housing to provide safe and comfortable housing for a student who may be in need of emergency housing. To date, four beds are available for students.

“I think it would be remiss not to acknowledge the pandemic and the past couple of years and the variations in employment that people have experienced as another contributor. When you look at the demographics of students at the University of Akron, we have a lot of students who somehow come from more of our local community. We have a good portion of pell-eligible students and even underfunded students,” Doehring said.

In addition to universities putting food on student tables and a bed to sleep in, Ohio State University strives to teach students life skills.

Buckeye Food Alliance is an on-campus customer food pantry of choice for students. In the 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 preparing 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 wanted their organization to expand its programming to cover other food-related issues.

“Historically, food pantries have been great at getting food into the hands of people who need it,” Fowler said. “There’s a big area of ​​growth in teaching people what to do with food. Sometimes we see beautiful products arrive and a student says, “I don’t know what to do with them when I get home.”

Each university offers information about these resources through their student life websites.

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