Michelle Hahn has been a member of Archie’s Food Closet for the last two years and said her experience has been extremely rewarding to be a part of a resource that helps care for the university community.
Archie’s Food Closet, located in the Recreation, Fitness and Wellness Center, allows students, faculty, staff and administrative members of the university free access to nonperishable food products and personal hygiene products.
Hahn said faculty member Sandy Lawrence created the space in 1992 to provide a way for students and employees alike to have access to the essential products and foods so they would not be stressed about where their next meal was coming from.
Hahn said all donations are provided by the university community including those involved in student clubs, fraternities and sororities, faculty departments and individuals.
These donations are quickly being distributed as the number of students and employees using Archie’s grows.
Hahn said the closet is living up to its purpose and that there has been a major increase in people using the resource within the last two years.
141 university members used Archie’s during the 2016-2017 school year. The number jumped to 284 in the next school year, which is a 101% increase.
Last school year’s numbers show a 76% increase as the number of people rose from 284 to 502. This means Archie’s had an average of 42 people every month during the 2018-2019 school year, with an average of 76 people during the three summer months.
According to Hahn, an estimated 90% of these visits are students.
Hahn said these numbers do not reflect a major increase in need or hunger on the campus. She said the numbers show a rising awareness of Archie’s as a resource to students and employees since a lack of awareness has been a problem in the past.
“I honestly think we have done a better job of getting the word out,” Hahn said. “We have in the past couple of years increased our focus on marketing and advertising.”
Residential Assistant (RA) Lilah Redmon said many students do not know about the free resources offered on campus.
“It’s shocking because we do a lot on our part as RAs to try and let people know but when you see that people don’t reach out and ask that’s why they don’t know,” the junior history major said.
Redmon said many students are unaware of many of the major resources like Archie’s or the health clinic and simply do not ask for help because it is out of their comfort zone.
“I know there are people on campus who aren’t in residence life who just go to school, but they are barely holding on because they have all these bills to pay for, plus college,” Redmon said. “We’re all college students. We’re all on budge[t].”
Redmon said many people joke about the idea of college students living off cheap foods like ramen noodles, but when students are sorting through their financial priorities, food should never be ignored when there are resources on campus put in place to care for students.
Dean of Students Jennifer Hammat said the university provides resources beyond Archie’s for students who are struggling financially, including the university health center, the counseling center and the Financial Care Team.
Hammat said no one plans for hunger or not knowing where their next meal is coming from, but the number of students needing help with financial problems has only increased during her time in higher education. She said this can disrupt a student’s thought process and function.
“Part of the problem is understanding that we can’t all go to Starbucks and have a $7 cup of coffee,” Hammat said.
Hammat said students who are financially struggling can fall through the cracks, especially when they do not reach out to the university for help.
According to Hammat, self-disclosure from students is a key to helping students and allows resources like the Dean of Students Office to help with such a substantial increase in student struggles and how to help figure out what students need.
“We know enough about our student population to know that there are students who fit that bandwidth who are barely making it through college financially and you’ve got to tell us if you are struggling,” Hammat said. “This is a judgment-free zone. I just need you to tell us what you are struggling with so we can try to start problem solving with you.”
Hammat said one way the university can help students avoid going hungry is helping them manage their budget.
Jeffery Sickman, the controller and assistant treasurer, said he and other members of the university also noticed this issue and have begun working on a way for students to have better, more efficient access to all the campus and resources to help them best adjust areas where they may be struggling, including hunger.
He said a newly created service known as the Financial Care Team is working to create a cross-functional team to bring students’ issues to every source available to them.
The departments in association with the care team include the Bursar office, Careers Services and Internships, the Dean of Students Office, Student Financial Success Center, USI Foundation, Housing and Residence Life, Student Financial Assistance, Sodexo and the Provost office.
These groups connect students to people who can help them manage their budget, find scholarships, work with students’ needs and even help them find on-campus jobs so they can earn money.
“I don’t think we were treating the whole person before,” Sickman said. “We were helping people but we were doing it individually. But if you want to have the best outcome you need to work together to make sure you are working with all the different things that are offered.”
He said while this will help students who are seeking out assistance, it still is difficult to reach students who do not reach out.
Sickman and Shawn Robey, an adjunct professor in accounting and finance and the leader of the Student Financial Success Center, have recently noticed this issue and have begun working on a possible solution to bring these students to light to make sure they are getting everything they can from the university and are able to stay enrolled in classes.
“You can’t save everybody-that’s just a fact of life,” Sickman said. “But you can help some and that’s better than doing nothing. The issue is when you don’t know who really needs help.”
Sickman said the university is working to collect data on students who are dropping out of the university due to possible financial difficulties. However, he said the problem is separating students who are struggling financially from those who are not due to students waiting to pay their bills until holds are on their accounts for registration.
Based on the Spring 2019 semester, Sickman said that one third of the billed money was still outstanding in March. This amount decreased by 27% in the next month. The majority of the money still owed after April belongs to students who fell through the cracks and did not re-enroll at the university.
Sickman said most of the students who did not re-enroll are not struggling academically as the majority of those who had not paid by April had GPAs of 3.1 or higher.
“Looking at this data we see that when a student doesn’t pay their bill by the due date, then there’s a 50% chance they will not re-enroll in the next semester,” he said. “For most students, their education is important to them, so 50% is a coin flip.”
He said it comes down to the fact that it might not be that students cannot afford a $4,000 tuition, but that students may not be able to afford a hamburger.
“If you don’t have your basic needs met, your food, your clothing, your shelter, your healthcare, it’s hard to do well academically,” he said. “Hopefully as we go forward, we will learn from our experience, we will develop the numbers of what populations we need to reach, and then we will develop customized services and outreach efforts to those populations.”
Hahn believes that even with the major increase in traffic at Archie’s, there are still students on campus who are not aware of the food closet.
“I feel like there is a stigma, and people are embarrassed,” Hahn said. “But as far as I am concerned every college student is a starving student. College is expensive, there’s no doubt about it.”
Hahn said she is hopeful the numbers will continue to increase as students in need learn more about Archie’s.
“It’s been a very rewarding experience because when students and employees come in and see what’s available to them, the looks on their faces and how much it is appreciated shows,” Hahn said. “I think that says a lot about how USI cares about their students and employees.”