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Cat’s Cupboard: Providing students, staff with food assistance

Food insecurity is a growing issue worldwide and is prevalent in Athens County. Food insecurity can be caused by several circumstances, including low wages, lack of access to healthy or nutritious food, adverse social and economic conditions, rising food prices and neighborhood conditions.  

Data from Feeding America indicates there are 1,360 kids (under the age of 18) in Athens County who are food insecure. According to the Athens Food Rescue Fund, 20.4% of Athens County citizens are currently suffering from food insecurity, compared to the national average of only 14% and the state average of 16%. 

Finding nutritious and healthy food at an affordable price is increasingly difficult, especially in Athens County. In response to food access challenges, a patchwork of public, private and nonprofit initiatives have emerged over the years.

Local food pantries, meal programs for children and seniors, SNAP outreach services and community gardens are working hard to reach those in need. However, many advocates argue more needs to be done on the policy level to address the root causes of hunger in Athens County.

At Ohio University, meal plans are an additional cost that makes attending the university even more expensive. OU offers a variety of meal plans ranging from 10-20 meals a week, including the traditional and the flex plan.

While the flex plan provides additional dining options on campus and more flexibility, it is more expensive than the traditional plan. Meal plans cost anywhere from $2,127-$3,597 per semester, a price tag not all students can afford. 

College is expensive, and students should not have to sacrifice their nutrition for their education. Luckily, OU recognizes that not all students have the funds to eat daily and has several resources that combat the issue.

Cat’s Cupboard, located in Baker University Center, is an on-campus food pantry. It is a completely choice-based service that any student, staff or faculty member can utilize if they sign up with their OU email and PID, allowing them access to the pantry and shop up to two times a month. 

Carly Pabin is a graduate assistant for Basic Needs, which covers food, housing and finances. Pabin helps oversee Cat’s Cupboard and its day-to-day functions.

“It’s a resource that’s available to everybody,” Pabin said. “While it might not be able to provide every single thing you may need, we hope it can provide some security and support to the people who use it.”

Cat’s Cupboard relies on donations and grants to supply the pantry and also receives donations from OU’s Culinary Services from the markets and dining halls.

The pantry often hosts donation drives to maintain variety and bolster its stock to ensure that it is consistently available for any community members who might need it.

Reginald Morrow is the Basic Needs Coordinator at OU, whose group oversees Cat’s Cupboard while also managing the Meal Bank Program and offering resources to aid with housing, food, bills and loans for students.  

“We do rely on donations,” Morrow said. “We have funds to purchase things, but when you’re purchasing for over 100 people a week, those funds deplete really quickly.”

Students are also able to help through the Meal Bank Program, where Bobcats can donate their leftover meal swipes at the end of an academic period to other Bobcats in need.

This program occurs once a week every semester, once before fall break and another before spring break. Students can donate up to three meal swipes per day at the dining halls.

The number of students using these basic needs resources is only increasing, as food insecurity is an ever-present issue on campus and in the area. 

“We are seeing around 115 visitors per week,” Pabin said. “I would say that food insecurity is a prevalent issue on campus. We also saw an increase in numbers since the beginning of last semester and even more following winter break.”

Besides the programs that OU offers, several food banks in Athens County accommodate other Athens residents. The Southeast Ohio Food Bank, GoodWorks, the Athens County Food Bank, Monday Lunch and Community Food Initiatives (CFI) are just a few in the area. The First Presbyterian Church on 2 N. Court Street also serves free hot meals on Thursdays for college students. 

Another option for food assistance is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which can help low-income Ohioans stretch their grocery budgets and buy healthy food.

Donating or volunteering with Cat’s Cupboard or at a local pantry, helping to maintain a community garden, or simply donating meal swipes are ways OU students can help both their fellow Bobcats and other Athens residents who are in need.

By simply lending time, energy and a voice to the ongoing food insecurity issues in this community, they can be part of the solution.


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