Kent State Geauga Fends Off Students’ Food Insecurity with Geauga Hunger Task Force Grant
When people consider hunger in America, they tend to think of people far away in urban centers. They don’t realize that food insecurity is a very real problem in Geauga County, even among college students. In order to combat this growing and troubling trend, Kent State University at Geauga is partnering with the Geauga Hunger Task Force (GHTF).
Kent State Geauga received a $2,500 grant from the GHTF in January 2022 to assist in their mission “ensuring that no Geauga County residents go hungry.” This grant complements a Geauga Campus-sponsored fundraiser which generated over $780 for the same purpose — to help local students in need.
“By aiding with food, our friends and neighbors can focus on other critical needs such as rent, utilities and basic transportation,” Susan Juhasz, GHTF board president, said in the grant approval letter. Established in 1977, the Geauga Hunger Task Force is a volunteer-driven organization that operates from Chardon.
Prior to this grant award, Kent State Geauga did not offer any food assistance to their 2,200+ students. Over 80% of the student body receives Pell grants or some form of scholarship or grant aid, explains Amy Murfello, marketing and community engagement manager for Kent State Geauga.
With this GHTF grant, “We seek to remove barriers like transportation, unmet financial need, and access to food, which go a long way in supporting students as they complete their degree programs. Stories of students worrying about their next meal have become increasingly common, and the pandemic has only exacerbated the problem. We want to ensure that no student goes hungry and is successful during their time at our institution.”
Tuition at Kent State Geauga starts at about $6,800 per year (40% less than the average cost of Ohio four-year public universities). Over $250,000 in scholarship awards are available for students, and 80% of first-year students receive a merit scholarship.
These new grant funds have been used to purchase 100 $25 gift cards to ALDI Grocery Stores. Students expressing a need will be able to apply for food aid via a secure online form. Once requests are reviewed and approved, applicants will be tracked to assess and plan for future needs.
Students will receive an email from Kent State Geauga to complete the form if they need assistance. This form will also include gift card options to Uber (since many students do not have a car to get to campus) and Giant Eagle (including GetGo for gas). Faculty and staff who are aware of a student’s need should direct them to complete the form. Applications will be reviewed and requests will be awarded weekly.
To sufficiently tackle the student food insecurity crisis, Kent State Geauga plans to staff an on-campus pantry for students to use on an as-needed basis in the future, once sustainable resources are in place.
Food insecurity among Geauga County college students is part of a national trend. A 2019 survey of over 167,000 students nationwide indicated that 39% of students had experienced food insecurity in the last 30 days.
The pandemic has only deepened the problem. Students who had Covid-19 were 1.7 times more likely to experience food insecurity than those who hadn’t been infected with the virus.
A 2020 survey of 1,000 undergraduates found that 52% of students sometimes used off-campus food banks, while 30% used them monthly or more frequently. Thirty-five percent of students said that hunger had impacted their ability to study and more than one-third of students knew someone who had dropped out of school due to difficulties affording food.*
At Kent State Geauga, students can begin or finish over 20 associate and bachelor’s degree programs in career-oriented fields, including Nursing, Business, English, Information Technology, and Psychology. Students experience small class sizes, personalized interaction with faculty, flexible learning modalities, student-centered instruction, free parking, and support services such as tutoring and counseling.
“As an institution committed to educational access, we intend to use these Geauga Hunger Task Force funds to lessen the burden of food insecurity on students in our communities,” Murfello said. “The funds received from this grant will set the foundation to assess our students’ needs and implement a long-term strategy to alleviate the barriers of food insecurity.“