Flash's Food Pantry at Kent State Stark Celebrates First Anniversary
You could tell Michelle Van Dyke was choking up as she mentioned the many times when she had to choose whether to buy gas or food on any given day. The financially struggling 53-year-old single mom and Kent State University at Stark student works two jobs and goes to school, all the while caring for her 11-year-old daughter. Oftentimes getting a healthy meal and other essentials for the two of them is difficult.
Then came Flash’s Food Pantry to the rescue.
A little more than a year ago, Flash’s Food Pantry began serving, promoting awareness and educating the Kent State Stark community about food insecurity. For Van Dyke and her daughter, it was a godsend.
“I can’t say enough good things about it,” Van Dyke says of the food pantry, which celebrated its first year anniversary of giving. “I work two jobs, go to school and care for my daughter. We didn’t have enough to get by week to week. It’s a blessing to know that it’s there for me.”
Van Dyke, of Perry Township, says her goal is to get her bachelor’s degree in psychology “because it will open more doors for me and get me off public assistance. I want to show my daughter that education truly is the way out of poverty.”
When struggling students across the U.S. — traditional and nontraditional alike — are given the dilemma between buying essentials such as food, gas, textbooks or even personal hygiene products, food is often relegated to last choice. More than 250 American colleges and universities, mostly public institutions, currently operate food pantries.
Recognizing this trend, several students serving on the Kent State Stark Student Leadership and Activities Board approached Dean Denise A. Seachrist about finding a way to make a difference in the lives of less fortunate peers and others by creating Flash’s Food Pantry. The pantry marked its first anniversary at a special ceremony on Nov. 2.
Open to any student, faculty or staff member on campus, Flash’s Food Pantry has been visited approximately 300 times in the last year and distributed more than 4,000 items to those in need, according to Ashley Brightbill, student activities and services manager at Kent State Stark. The pantry is confidential and does not ask for personal information.
Guests are welcome to visit the pantry once a week and take up to 12 items at a time. In addition to food and hygiene products on hand, educational opportunities about local resources and food insecurity in Stark County are available to visitors. Food insecurity refers to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s measure of lack of regular access to nutritional food for an active and healthy life. The food insecurity rate in Stark County is nearly 16 percent of the population; the child food insecurity rate is 25 percent.
Seachrist praised the efforts of student leaders and community partners.
“Since opening the pantry, we have learned a great deal about the needs of our campus community, including the very difficult decisions our students are forced to make every day,” she says. “I’m so proud of our students. Many thanks go to Fishers Foods for stepping in and providing the initial stocking of our shelves, and their subsequent generous donations. Our partners at Interfaith Campus Ministry and the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank are instrumental in sustaining the pantry. Because of this relationship, the dollars raised for our food pantry can go further to help even more students. My sincerest thanks to Dan Flowers and his staff from the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank and Michael Gleason of Interfaith, for helping us make a difference in those lives we serve on a daily basis and for teaching our students the power of helping one another.”
As for Van Dyke, having two jobs and raising her daughter keeps her busy. She is excited about getting closer to her goal of graduating. She works for Kent State Stark’s Undergraduate Student Government as a member of the pantry staff and as a Connect-to-Complete Peer Advocate for her fellow students, tutoring them on study skills, dealing with stress management and leading workshops on those topics.
For more information about Flash’s Food Pantry or to donate funds, nonperishable food items or personal hygiene products, contact Kent State Stark’s Undergraduate Student Government at KSUStarkUSG@kent.edu.