The Promise House, Otterbein’s student-led resource center and food pantry, is facing a higher demand for its services during COVID-19.
During last week’s Board of Trustees meeting, the increased need for the Promise House’s services was discussed.
The Promise House was created by students for students in 2016. The Promise House provides many services for students including a food pantry, clothing, and emergency mini-grants of up to $75. The Promise House runs on students and staff volunteers. There has been an increase in students using their services since COVID-19.
“I’ve noticed that we’ve been doing a lot more frequent shopping trips and that there has been a lot more students engaging with our order fulfillment service,” Kathrine Clifford, a Promise House coordinator said. "There are some days that we’re packaging like five or six orders like in an hour time span.”
Another change due to pandemic is switching to online orders. Before COVID-19, students were able to shop inside the building. Now there is an order fulfillment service the Promise House uses, which packages foods in bags for students.
“Our biggest issue with [COVID-19] has really been the inability of our students to come into the Promise House and shop,” said Melissa Gilbert, associate dean of experiential learning and director of the Center for Community Engagement. “That whole sense of creating a community there is key to what we do.”
One of the Promise House’s missions is to tackle the barriers of food insecurities among students. Experts state that one in three college students experienced food insecurities before COVID-19. With many students being left jobless due to the pandemic, food insecurities are becoming a bigger issue.
“Many students at Otterbein are struggling,” Sydney Quynn, the Promise House’s AmeriCorp Vista said. “Some people are at risk of being homeless and so knowing that that is a reality for many people just that you wouldn’t know walking around campus that, that is what they’re experiencing that’s really tough.”
Public and community universities such as The Ohio State University and Columbus State University have food pantries, but what about private colleges? Capital and John Caroll University have food pantries for their students, but Muskingham, Baldwin Wallace, and Ohio Northern do not have an organization specifically for students. The Promise House is standing out to help Otterbein Students by providing fresh food from our local gardens.
“Not many food pantries have access to land and access to fresh food that they can distribute to their constituents,” said Quynn.
So what can be done to help the Promise House operate to its full potential? Financial donations are a big help, but there are also other ways to contribute to the Promise House.
Gilbert says, “toiletries are something that we try no to buy too much of with donations money we really depend on donors for that. Things like body wash, shampoo, we do have a lot of feminine hygiene products.”
Donating anything to the Promise House can help out, they even accept school supplies and pet food. The Promise house will continue to help and serve the community not just with food, but any financial insecurities that may arise for students.
“The promise is two different promises, the promise of our institution that food and other social-economic barriers never stop a student from graduating,” said Melissa. “Then there’s this other promise, and that’s students saying to each other I promise to help you.”
In addition to the Promise House, concerns about the budget were discussed by President John Comerford during the Board of Trustees meeting. President Joe Biden is making a relief fund for schools. His budget plan however, does not mention private colleges.
“We’re highly concerned by any proposal from Washington or the state that are based on the idea that only public universities provided access to affordability,” said Comerford.
Comerford continued to explain that Otterbein has the same amount if not more first-generation and low-income students. The Promise House is an example of an organization Otterbein has to help students.
On Feb. 9, 2021, Comerford tweeted that the House Education and Labor Committee released a bill that includes independent colleges for $40 billion, but that he was still waiting on Biden’s plan to include private colleges as well.