Ohio State University: OSURA food insecurity fund raises $100,000

Members of The Ohio State University Retirees Association knew they wanted to pursue a new project to support students; the only question was what form that support would take.

The organization of retired Ohio State faculty and staff has a long history of giving back to the university, and its members are always looking for different ways to make an impact. In 2019, when the OSURA Board learned that food insecurity was an issue for a significant number of students on the Columbus campus, they knew they had to help alleviate this issue.

With the help of University Advancement, OSURA created The Ohio State University Retirees Association Endowment Fund to Combat Student Food Insecurity and began raising money immediately. The fund has now hit the $100,000 mark.

“The OSURA board and members looked at plenty of options for this project but decided the best approach would be to give back to students,” said then OSURA president Steven D’Ambrosio. “The campus food pantry was just getting started [in 2018]. We had organized some food drives and small donations but wanted to do even more. We wanted to help give them some financial stability.”

The 2017 Study on Collegiate Financial Wellness found 14.7% of undergraduate students at Ohio State reported having very low food security.

Experiencing food insecurity can lead to barriers for students including, but not limited to, being distracted in class, lower grades, dropping a class or discontinuing one’s education entirely. Some studies have shown that student grade point averages and university retention may be improved if universities take steps to address food insecurity on their campuses.

Food insecurity can also put students more at risk for experiencing adverse mental health effects, obesity, diabetes and maladaptive eating patterns that persist well beyond their college experience.

Student Life’s Student Wellness Center operates a client choice food pantry for students on campus. The Buckeye Food Alliance (BFA) pantry, located in Lincoln Tower, is available to all Ohio State students and distributes hundreds of pounds of food each week, including staples such as fresh produce, milk, eggs, meat, meat substitutes and personal care items. As a client choice food pantry, students can select their own foods, which allows them to better support their own nutritional needs. The pantry is run by students for students, operated by 15-20 student volunteers, one or two graduate students and one full-time employee.

BFA also provides educational outreach, and, because food insecurity is often coupled with other challenges, BFA works to connect students with other campus and community support resources they may need.

The pantry received 5,160 visits in 2020-2021, a record number, and is on pace to match or exceed that level this year.

“Food insecurity is a real challenge on college campuses across the country,” says Buckeye Food Alliance Coordinator Nick Fowler. “This complex issue cannot be solved by one person or one organization alone. It takes a collaborative effort to ensure that No Buckeye Goes Hungry. Thanks to the university and amazing donors such as OSURA we are able to take one step closer to seeing a world where food insecurity does not exist at Ohio State.”

The donation from OSURA will help ensure that BFA has a reliable stream of income to support its mission for years to come. This income will support the acquisition of nutritious and inclusive food items, support general operations and allow BFA to plan ways to further support students in a holistic manner.

Several donors sponsored challenge matches for contributions of $5 to $10,000. Each of those challenges was exceeded. OSURA is still taking donations for the fund and expects the endowment to continue to grow.

“The response from our members has been so heart-warming,” said past OSURA president Margaret Teaford. “Their commitment to the fund, especially during the pandemic, is very rewarding. What began as an effort to make a gift to Ohio State for its 150th anniversary has grown into this endowed fund; we couldn’t be more pleased with the results!”

Since its founding in 1983, OSURA has enhanced the well-being of its members through educational, cultural and recreational programs, as well as kept them informed of state and university pension and benefit policies.