OHIO helping international students with food needs during pandemic

Published: July 29, 2020 Author: Staff reports

Several projects have been conducted across OHIO to help provide international students with necessities like food during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The International Student Task Force (ISTF) was created in March, and conducted two needs assessment surveys in April and June among international students. The surveys showed that over a hundred OHIO international students living in Athens will experience high level rental payments and food insecurity during the summer months. 

“For a while now, we’ve been hearing first-hand from our international students about how hard the implications of COVID-19 have been on them and their families,” said Patton College of Education Assistant Dean for Academic Engagement and Outreach Dr. Connie Patterson. “Concurrently, as a community member, I’ve been watching how the City of Athens’ businesses have been stepping up to provide much needed support for our community.”

To assist the local businesses and therefore help more international students, The Patton College of Education’s Strategic Planning Work Group, “Vibrant Outreach, Engagement, and Partnerships,” recently held a donation drive to raise funds to sponsor lunches. 

The donations were gathered with the idea in mind to sponsor lunches at a local Athens establishment, Brenen’s Coffee Café.

Donations came from all over The Patton College community, ranging from $10 to $250. After a week and a half, the college had $900 in donations. On July 7, Patterson presented the check to Brenen’s Coffee Café owner Josh Thomas, a Patton College alumnus. Thomas owns the coffee shop and deli with this wife, Jessica Thomas, a College of Arts and Sciences alumna. The two have been providing free meals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This has been a welcomed charity to our international students who are faced with financial challenges exacerbated by the pandemic,” Patterson said.

The Yamada House Pantry has also been available to students of the Center for International Students (CIS) since June 5. The pantry is the initiative of several CIS staff and faculty along with staff from the Office of Global Affairs (OGA). 

“We know things have been challenging and hope that this is one small way that we can assist,” said CIS administrative specialist Brianne Dowler.

Supplies are left in tubs on the front porch of the Yamada House and students are welcome to take what they need. There are several health guidelines in place as well, such as wearing a mask, using hand sanitizer, and for a student to touch only what they are taking. 

Some perishable items have also been donated from the OHIO student farm on a first-come, first-served basis for the pantry. To accommodate those donations, the pantry days were moved to Thursdays. Surveys are also sent out to students to see what their needs are so that staff can keep that in mind when filling the pantry. 

Food insecurity for international students has also been addressed by the Cats Cupboard, OHIO’s food pantry, which has become a central point for food donations for all students. 

“Our advocacy for addressing the food insecurity became a reality because of the generous efforts of the Athens Friends of International Students Community Task Force,” ISTF Chair Faustina Mensah said. “The latter consists of the representatives of churches in Athens, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and some community members. Through their noble donations, and selfless outreach efforts, Cats Cupboard has received food donations on a consistent basis and that enhanced its capacity to meet the requests from its student users.” 

Through ISTF advocacy, Cats Cupboard was filled with necessary food items, along with receiving a $2,000 cash donation from the Athens Food Pantry, a donation of 120 gift cards from local grocery shops by the Rotary Club of Athens, as well as receiving food items from donation drives held by the Rotary Club. Click here to learn more about ISTF’s efforts in regards to Cats Cupboard.

OHIO also recently launched an International Student Emergency Relief Fund to support international students who have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including raising support for food security as well as other basic necessities. To learn more about the fund, click here.