Help Students when Tragedy Strikes: Give to the Emergency Relief Fund this Giving Tuesday

A full tank of gas, groceries in the fridge and a mattress to sleep on might seem like simple things, but for some students it can make the biggest difference in their world. For senior psychology major Natalie James, a gas card meant she was no longer running on empty in more ways than one. 

Last year, this professionally trained opera singer found herself far from her former role as a Disney princess. Without a bed, without food, but she was not without a chance. She would get her Cinderella story. 

“I was at a really low point in my life,” explained James, recalling her first meeting with Rev. Ryan Johanning of Interfaith Campus Ministry, which provides emergency assistance, referral and support to students. “When (Johanning) handed me the gas card, I was just so shocked. Is that for me to take? And then, I found out there was even more help for me, support I would have only dreamed about.”

But this aid wasn’t the kind that only exists in fairytales. Thanks to generous donors, everyday necessities become a reality for students who may be struggling. During this year’s Giving Tuesday campaign, there are even more ways to donate. A newly established Emergency Relief Fund will help Kent State University at Stark students when the unthinkable happens. 

This new fund provides aid during a true emergency — right when tragedy strikes. Some Kent State Stark students have battled cancer, survived domestic violence and even a house fire that destroyed all their possessions. Still others have juggled schoolwork while caring for a child born with birth defects.

For James, life’s unexpected challenges began when she found herself staying on friends’ couches, without a mattress and a home to call her own. When she suffered a vocal cord injury, spurred by issues with her spine, this musical talent found herself unable to speak, let alone continue her voice lessons at Kent State University at Stark.  

“I told my instructor I didn’t have a bed to sleep on. I was dirt broke at the time. I didn’t have groceries — or anything,” James said. “Right away, she connected me with Interfaith.” 

This 22-year-old, who had previously served as a food pantry coordinator providing meals for more than 15,000, was now in need herself. She received groceries from Flash’s Food Pantry and that helped her keep going. James said she’s always had “a special place in my heart for feeding those in need” and now that she’s walked in their shoes, that connection is even greater. 

“I know a lot of students are in dark, heavy places right now,” she said. “And I was embarrassed that I was in this place because we never think we will end up there, needing help, with so little to our name. But I am here to tell you, there is hope. It doesn’t have to be a big ordeal to get help; it can be a positive thing.”

Through enduring this trial, James said she has learned more about the power of being associated with Kent State University. 

“As a student, I was provided with so many resources, and it helped to have someone to guide me through the process,” she said. “There were times when I was struggling so much that I didn’t even know if it was realistic to continue my education. Am I making the right decision? Can I pull this off?

“But I learned that because I am a Kent State student, I have more security. I can still get groceries and the help that I need to get back on my feet. If I would have dropped out, I wouldn’t have those supports.

“Kent State is here to help you and assist you in your life — not just in your studies.”

For this Canton native, who has discovered a passion outside of singing — academic research — she has big plans on and off the stage. That includes pursuing a master’s degree in consumer psychology after graduating from Kent State Stark. 

“The experience I went through, well, people who don’t go through those experiences don’t always feel inclined to give. They don’t always feel inclined to help,” James said. “But when you truly realize your gift is helping others to pursue their dreams, it is giving them a chance they didn’t even know existed, and this is what creates real joy that’s sustainable.”

It not only can make the biggest difference in someone’s world, but it can move them from setback to breakthrough — and get a real chance at happily ever after.  

Our students need your support today. Give to the Emergency Relief Fund this Giving Tuesday and you will be helping students, just like Natalie James, when the unthinkable happens.


POSTED: Tuesday, November 2, 2021 - 2:58pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, November 2, 2021 - 3:23pm
Kent State University at Stark