Winter 2018 — “Have you ever gone to sleep for dinner?” It’s a question posed by a student seeking food assistance. “Falling asleep in hunger has become a casual part of my everyday life.” This is a common reality for many students — struggling to study, work and maintain a social life, all on an empty stomach. Fortunately, the Human Services Resource Center (HSRC) has taken great strides to make sure that students don’t have to add “find food” and “find shelter” to their already lengthy to-do lists.
Everything at the Human Services Resource Center — the food pantry, the commercial grade kitchen, the community garden, the meeting space — is in pursuit of one goal: helping students meet basic needs.
Contrary to what some might think, the HSRC is far more than a food distribution center. They provide outreach, education and referral services. Students have access to study and recreation spaces, free textbook rentals, shower and laundry rooms, quality kitchen equipment, nutrition seminars and even short-term emergency housing. All of this, the HSRC hopes, is so that students can pursue their education without the anxiety, stress, and health issues caused by food insecurity and homelessness.
“What we have here is like nothing you’ll find at universities elsewhere,” Assistant Director Nicole Hindes says. “It’s truly a comprehensive program.” And an increasing number of students have taken notice. “We served around 3,500 students last year, and we’re already on pace to be far above that this year.”
Their most popular service, the food pantry, is open four times each month and operates like a supermarket. Students can browse aisles of food with baskets, choosing what they want. The aisles feature donations from various campus food drives, important nutrition information and — on the first Friday of each month — fresh, seasonal produce from the onsite garden. And this year, they’ve taken their endeavors to social media. @eatfreeosu is a new Twitter account that highlights events with free food on campus, making them simple and easy for students to find.
Mealbux is another HSRC-initiated service for food insecure students. It’s a program that awards credit toward meals at on-campus vendors. While it’s been serving students for several years, this year Mealbux features a new application, and Hindes is excited about its potential. “The new application is more in-depth and contains questions that will return better student data stories that we can use to improve our services,” she says. “Plus, it will now be able to help determine if a student is SNAP eligible.
“In the past, I have had to ask my friends for their leftovers or take food home from their Greek houses,” says one student, “but having Mealbux helped me greatly.” Another says their money “goes toward paying tuition and rent,” and with Mealbux assistance, they haven’t had to “use other sources to cover food expenses.” And it’s not just students that benefit from the program, but their families as well. “I have a responsibility to provide food for my family,” another student says. “It’s never a possibility to have my children go without; I will always find a way to provide.”
The HSRC staff knows that in serving basic needs, collaboration is key, which is why they’ve built relationships with various campus and community partners. For example, permaculture classes, the School of Civil Construction and Engineering and the Student Sustainability Initiative all contribute to their garden’s design and maintenance. Organizations around campus coordinate food drives to help stock the pantry, dining halls donate their leftovers and students volunteer their time and talents. But the collaboration doesn’t stop there. Community partners like the Linn Benton Food Share, SAGE Garden, Food For All and Midvalley Harvest also contribute to HSRC programs.
Counseling & Psychological Services and Student Health Services offer care through the HSRC too. “Obviously food insecurity is a priority, but so is mental and physical health, and we strive to provide those services and education for students who need them,” Hindes says.
As the HSRC continues to broaden its scope of services, they hope to further reduce the misconceptions and stigmas surrounding student homelessness and food insecurity. “Some students think that it’s just a ‘typical college thing’ to eat ramen five days a week,” Hindes says, “or they think ‘oh, I don’t want to take food away from someone else,’ which is very noble, but just another misconception. We want to raise awareness about all the forms food insecurity takes and about the remedies we have to offer.”
If you have questions about any of HSRC’s services, or if you’d like to volunteer, visit their website, contact them at [email protected], or stop by their office in Avery Lodge, open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.