GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A national effort to tackle food and housing insecurity among college students has selected Grand Rapids Community College as one of its first partners.
GRCC was one of 27 colleges picked after a competition for Hope4College’s first cohort, an initiative by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice.
Member schools will work individually and together to “build and strengthen support systems that meet students’ basic needs,” according to a news release Thursday.
Funding for the effort comes partly from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the ECMC Foundation.
The Hope Center for College, Community and Justice says almost three in five students experience housing or food insecurity, with the problem being more common among those attending two-year colleges.
“Without these basic needs met, students struggle to learn, achieve and graduate,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, the center’s founder and CEO, during a U.S. House committee hearing on Sept. 8. “They fall deeply into debt, often leaving college without degrees needed to repay it.”
GRCC already has a student food pantry, a Student Emergency Assistance Fund and a “Get Help” webpage that connects students with campus and community resources.
The pantry – run by the Student Life and Conduct office – saw 186 visits from Fall 2018 to Summer 2019.
And that number went up as soon as the pandemic hit, according to Lina Blair, GRCC’s director of student life.
“Many college students were struggling prior to the coronavirus crisis, especially those balancing school with work and families,” Blair said. “We care deeply about our students and wanted to make sure we could help.”
Blair’s office began organizing weekly food pickups by car in March 2020 and worked with community partners like Heart of West Michigan United Way, Feeding America West Michigan, Meijer, Plainsong Farm and Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority’s Theta Chi Omega chapter to put more food – as well as hygiene and child care supplies – on pantry shelves.
The support helped the pantry provide more than 2,000 packages to students since the pandemic hit.
The Student Emergency Assistance Fund, created in 2009 largely with employee donations, also saw and increase in need during the pandemic.
It helps students facing emergencies like losing their job, homelessness or having their utilities shut off and distributed more than $6,500 in 2018-19.
Almost $36,000 was given out after the start of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, community resources that can help students address not only food and housing insecurity, but also mental health and domestic violence issues, can be found on the college’s “Get Help” webpage.
Colleges participating in the effort will be able to share research and ideas, share best practices and offer support.
Mott Community College and the University of Michigan – Dearborn are the only other Michigan colleges included in the program.