Southeast Ohio may be lacking in financial resources, but there is no shortage of heart when it comes to supporting one another in times of crisis. This was the case last February when fire consumed one of the Carriage Hill Apartment buildings, displacing dozens of families in Athens. The crisis led to an outpouring of community support and an over-abundance of donations – too many, in fact.
“There was a lot of food leftover,” said Executive Director of Event Services Dusty Kilgour. “So we bought shelves and stocked them, hoping that students in need would put them to good use. The rest is history.”
The Baker Center Food Pantry opened in April 2017 on a trial basis. It has been utilized so heavily to date that administrators are now considering making it a permanent feature in Baker University Center. Because the pantry operates on an honor system, it isn’t clear who is utilizing the service. Nor does it matter, according to Vice President for Student Affairs Jason Pina.
“So long as the items are helping to alleviate food insecurity, we don’t care who is helping themselves,” Pina said. “It’s a small and simple way in which we are caring for OHIO students and the broader southeast Ohio community.”
Hunger is a particularly urgent issue in Athens County. Data from the last U.S. Census shows that 35 percent of Athens County lives below the poverty line – more than double the rate for the rest of Ohio. In the state overall, over 16 percent of Ohioans are considered to have low or very low food security, higher than any surrounding state and the national average.
High demand at the Baker Center Food Pantry reflects these statistics, according to Kilgour. “If we fill the shelves on a Monday, most of the food is gone by the following Monday,” he said.
To ensure the pantry’s continued operation and maintenance, a workgroup comprised of students and Student Affairs staff was formed. The workgroup recently applied for membership in the College and University Food Bank Alliance (CUFBA), a professional organization comprised of campus-based programs focused on alleviating food insecurity, hunger and poverty among college and university students in the U.S.
“Joining CUFBA gives us access to a national network of campuses engaged in similar work as well as a wealth of resources,” said Director of Community Standards and Student Responsibility Martha Compton, who serves on the committee.
The Baker Center Food Pantry can be accessed during Baker University Center hours of operation, 7 a.m. to midnight while classes are in session. Donors may simply drop off food and/or boxes near the pantry, located near the escalators on the second floor of Baker University Center. Donated items are sorted by Student Affairs staff on a rotating basis.
“Bobcats take care of each other, and this is another way in which we as a community can come together to address a need,” Compton said.