Kent Cares Expanding to Help More Students in Need
Written by Brandon Lewis on April 24, 2021
Photo caption: Campus Kitchen volunteers organizing a food table outside of Franklin Hall during the fall 2020 semester.
When COVID-19 began to take its toll on the nation in March 2020, Kent Cares — a subcommittee on the Kent State campus focused on students’ overarching basic needs– were worried about how they were going to get enough food to fill multiple pantries across campus.
With help from campus kitchen, a student-run hunger fighting organization on campus, the groups decided to hold a fundraiser where students, faculty and staff could donate food for the pantries.
Dr. Talea Drummer-Ferrell, a primary student advocate for Kent Cares, said the fundraiser was a bigger success than she could have imagined.
“We received over 2,000 pounds of food in just a week and a half, and it filled up two rooms full of donations,” Drummer-Ferrell said. “When I saw the pictures of people donating, I bursted into tears.”
Hunger has always been an issue on the Kent campus, but Amanda Woodyard, the Director of Community Engaged Learning at Kent State, says the pandemic gave students and faculty confidence to reach out for help.
“Before the pandemic, I think there was a certain privilege that came along with students who were going to college,” Woodyard said. There was a mentality that if a student is enrolled in college, maybe living here on campus, or has a meal plan, that obviously they’re not experiencing food insecurity, but we know that to be false. Kent State has a lot of students that come from working class families.”
Drummer-Ferrell noted her main responsibilities are to ensure students at Kent State are well taken care of.
“Our primary focus is our students, but we will work with resources in and outside of the Kent area to fulfill our basic needs initiative,” Drummer-Ferrell said. “Even though we have a lot of fantastic resources at Kent State at both the main campus and our regional campuses, there are some community activities and federal support that we can make sure we use to our advantage.”
Currently, campus kitchen is running three pantries out of Tri-Towers on campus. Students can book an appointment on the campus kitchen website to go pick up food once a week. Campus kitchen requires no proof of income or residency.
Woodyard explained more students are using the services campus kitchen offers today more than ever.
“In the last year, we’ve given out over 65,000 pounds of food through our on campus food pantries and food distributions, and that number is about to triple prior to the start of the pandemic,” Woodyard said.
Woodyard says the food campus kitchen gives students is not just junk food.
“The food we have to offer is fresh produce that we get from Trader Joe’s,” Woodyard noted. “It’s fruits, it’s veggies, we even get meat, dairy products, bread, desserts, and all the things somebody would need to make a well balanced meal and to have a healthy diet. That’s one of our commitments is maintaining everyone’s integrity and allowing all of the people who come to visit the campus kitchen pantry to shop for the items that they would like to use in their kitchens.”
In October, Kent Cares will be transitioning from a sub-committee to an organization. They will be opening up a center on Kent’s main campus and other regional campuses to expand on their mission. Their goal is to hire multiple directors to help students who are struggling in the overarching basic needs category.
Drummer-Ferrell noted the change will allow Kent Cares to better help students and people in the community.
“Now that we are moving from a committee that’s doing this as sub-work and additional work to actually getting people who will be deeply entrenched in this work to do that, we will be able to reach more people,” Drummer-Ferrell said. “That is upcoming and is an area of growth that we as a committee know the center will actually be able to fill.”
When the pandemic first hit, Kent Cares knew more students needed help, but they didn’t have the correct resources necessary to assist them the best way possible like they do now.
“Because we were a committee, we didn’t have anywhere for them in particular to go at first, but we had a lot of offices students could reach out to (office of dean of students, campus kitchen, residential services, ect),” Drummer-Ferrell said. “We would have all these different folks who would get information for students, and now we will have a center that can take care of all of those needs.”
For Drummer-Ferrell, she expressed being able to make a difference in people’s lives is why she wakes up every morning.
“This position is a calling that is more than just a job,” Drummer-Ferrell said. “I feel like I can make a difference in experiences, which is why I’m pushing so hard for more resources to come to fruition. Yes, we’re starting to see the end of COVID, but the work that we do with Kent Cares and the Care Center we have to keep going, so being involved in that process gives me joy and gives me purpose in the work I do.”
As of March 17, 2021, 392 million shots have been given for COVID-19 according to Bloomberg, leading many people to believe we are nearing the end of the pandemic. Whenever that time officially comes, Drummer-Ferrell wants to ensure the Kent Cares Center will continue its growth.
“We want to make sure this conversation doesn’t end because the needs existed before COVID, so we want to make sure that we are able to share our story and provide students a chance to learn, grow and support one another,” Drummer-Ferrell said. “You never know what your classmate next to you is experiencing, and it is not for you to know, but it is for us that need the resources to make sure we can provide them with the proper resources.”
Part of that mission is to expand Kent Cares’ efforts on regional campuses. Currently, they hold a summit every semester with regional campuses. The fall summit focuses on making sure the overarching basic needs are being met, and the spring summit focuses on behavioral intervention teams, and how behaviors are impacted by not having those basic needs.
All the information about Kent Cares can be found at https://www.kent.edu/kent-cares
All the information about campus kitchen can be found at https://www.kent.edu/community/campus-kitchen
Dante Centofanti contributed to this story.