Food insecurity is not something most students think about when they think of college. However, many students face this reality while at school, sometimes not knowing where their next meal will come from. Haylie Schmoll, now a junior public relations major, was faced with this harsh truth when a student in need approached her in the OtterDen. One casual conversation would help bring the issue of food insecurity to the forefront of Otterbein’s campus, resulting in the creation of Otterbein’s food pantry, the Promise House.
During that encounter, another Otterbein student approached Schmoll in the campus café asking for a meal swipe in order to eat lunch. The student explained that before Otterbein, homelessness had been an obstacle in their life. Schmoll offered a meal swipe to the student, and though the conversation ended, she continued to think about how situations like this could be prevented in the future. With the creation of the Promise House, these issues are being combated every day through a wealth of resources and the efforts of committed volunteers.
According to the university website, the Promise House helps students deal with food insecurity by “providing a community café, campus food pantry, referrals to community resources, peer advocacy, volunteer opportunities and educational workshops”. The organization gives under-resourced students access to food, school supplies and hygiene products. This allows students to focus on their studies rather than worrying about when they will be able to have their next meal or afford school supplies.
Food insecurity is something students at colleges across the nation face, and as a result more campuses are talking about starting food pantries. According to Rachel Scherzer, a coordinator at the Promise House and Otterbein’s Center for Community Engagement, the movement to establish these programs has accelerated within the last five years.
Scherzer was part of the team that established the Promise House nearly two years ago in response to evidence of need on Otterbein’s campus.
“Thirty two percent of Otterbein’s students are Pell eligible, which means they’re in the highest amount of need according to the federal government and they can get the Pell Grant,” said Scherzer.
That number, along with stories of peers in need and staff members keeping food in their drawers for hungry students, showed that a program like the Promise House was much-needed and would be used.
Over the summer, the Promise House services roughly 60 students per month. This number increases to as many as 100 as more students arrive on campus and the Promise House hosts special events and programs during the school year. A couple examples of programming include adopt-a-pantry, where academic departments choose a month to donate to the pantry and host educational events, or the meal swipe donation program that the Promise House puts on at the end of each semester.
For Isaac Wade, class of 2017, there is no question that the Promise House played a key role in his college career. As a commuter, he was forced to spend money on gas over other necessities like food. During his first two to three years at Otterbein, he often found himself hungry throughout the day. He was eating roughly one meal each day when he was on campus and had to find a way to sustain himself. Now Wade still volunteers at the Promise House, even after graduating.
Most food pantries require some sort of direct payment or service in return for goods and supplies. Luckily, a service that the Promise House offers is food in return for time given back. This two-fold incentive is an easy way for the community to become involved not only in the Promise House but also in other campus activities.
“The Promise House means ensuring that students who are too busy or lack the resources to eat, can eat,” said Wade. “At Otterbein we talk about a healthy environment, but at the end of the day a healthy environment only works if the people who live in that environment are healthy themselves.”
In order to create this type of sustainable environment, the Promise House supplies a consistent amount of food while also allowing the Otterbein community to have easy access to its resources.
This is how it works: The pantry is located on the ground floor of the Home Street Commons apartments. The Promise House’s hours vary depending on when volunteers are available to work, but they’re posted on Twitter and sent in emails each week. Or, they can just look out for the Promise House sign in front of Home Street Commons; if the sign is sitting out, the pantry is open. Students can go in any time the Promise House is open, and as often as they need to. First time visitors fill out a new member form, then pick up a shopping list. The lists designate how many items from the pantry you can get in multiple categories, such as fruits, snacks and toiletries. After collecting your items, you turn in your shopping list to the volunteer working, and then walk out with full bags of groceries.
Many members of the Otterbein community worked towards creating the Promise House. Now their original vision has even expanded to include partnerships with organizations like W.A.R.M. and the Otterbein Thrift Store. They receive donations from local churches, community members and even Panera Bread, a restaurant that delivers baked goods to the Promise House every Wednesday.
Since it began, the Promise House has expanded into a valuable resource for Otterbein’s campus, raising awareness for important socioeconomic issues and offering solutions. With programs like it available to the Otterbein community, students will always have the opportunity to give back, pay it forward and receive help whenever they need it.
If you’re interested in volunteering, just email the Promise House at firstname.lastname@example.org to start your training. The pantry also offers drop-in volunteer hours, where students can come in anytime it is open and help out.