As the holidays draw closer, while many college students are spending late nights preparing for final exams and finishing projects, some students are just worried about finding the money to pay for food. At one college in the northern suburbs of Atlanta, students struggling between paychecks have access to a donated food pantry where they can stock up on two-weeks of food.
The Feed the Future program, run by the Psychiatric and Social Services Department of Kennesaw State University and the KSU Staff Senate, feeds up to 30 hungry students each month during the fall and spring semesters, according to the program’s director, Tao Bartleson Mosley, a professor and social worker at the campus health clinic.
“Demand varies by month,” she said. “Summer is slow. It also slows down after financial aid pays out.”
Any student in need will receive 10 to 14 days of non-perishable food; items such as peanut butter, crackers and cans of soup or vegetables. Because it cannot store products such as milk or eggs, Mosley collects gift cards to Wal-Mart and grocery stores, allowing students to purchase food for themselves. Since 2006, Feed the Future has given food to more than 550 students, Mosley said.
Nationwide, more than 49 million Americans were at risk of hunger every day, including more than 16 million children, according to a 2008 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But no one knows how many college students are at risk.
Still, the Feed the Future program is critical for students and the university, says KSU Staff Senate President Deborah Chimeno.
“If you are worried about where your next meal is coming from,” she said, “you’re not focused on why you’re really here.” But, she added, it is important to note that the program doesn’t just help homeless students. Any student who is struggling between paychecks and in need of food is welcome.
And in Chimeno’s opinion, helping is the only option.
“We have to stick together,” she said. “That’s what a family does; they help each other.”
But many times, she says, students in need won’t accept the program’s help.
“I don’t want them to feel embarrassed or degraded,” she said. “But how do you give help to people too proud or stubborn to take it?
“What’s the matter with compassion?” she added. “They want privacy. I want them to know there are people who care about them.”
With a shoestring operating budget of only $500 a year, Feed the Future must be creative. The program relies on donations of food and Chimeno isn’t shy about asking for help.
“My job is to get that information out there,” she said.
Chimeno starts with her own organization. She asks each of the senators to bring food donations to the Staff Senate’s monthly meetings. But the Senate is also partnering with other organizations across campus to increase collections.
Each year the KSU Swing Dance Association hosts the “Jump, Jive and Wail” a 1940s swing dance with a live big band. The cost of admission is a donation of food for the Feed the Future program.
Donations have also been taken at soccer and volleyball matches and at events sponsored by the KSU Alumni Association. The History Department even constructed their own permanent collection box. In order to pay for gift cards to grocery stores, Chimeno sells calendars and holds raffles, whatever it takes to keep the program alive and helping students.
The campus response has been very positive.
“We have the most motivated, compassionate team,” Chimeno said.
According to Chimeno, this has lead to record numbers of donations.
“This is the best year we have ever had,” she said.
In fact, the program has received so many donations that it is running out of room at its current storage location and had to expand to a warehouse, Chimeno said.
But the program can always use more donations.
“It’s time to start lighting the TNT and get people thinking [about ways to help],” Chimeno said.