While Spring Break is a time to travel and relax for many students, others remain on campus during break because they cannot afford to go home. But after Peirce Dining Hall closes on the Friday before break, it does not reopen until break is over, leaving some of these students on their own to procure meals.
Two weeks ago, Student Council approved a request from ResLife to fund grocery stipends for those students staying on the Hill over Spring Break who cannot afford to shop at the Village Market and Mount Vernon grocery stores or dine at local restaurants. The exact amount of money required is unclear because the number of students remaining on campus who will require aid is unknown, but Student Council approved $7,500 to be reallocated from their budget surplus to the program, estimating that 40 to 60 students would receive $70 per week. Last year, 600 students registered to stay on campus for one or more days over Spring Break, according to Jill Engel-Hellman, director of Housing and Residential Life and assistant dean of students.
“A lot of our students don’t understand the high degree of need that some of our students face,” Engel-Hellman, said. “The students that took advantage of past over-break meals did not have any kind of plan for eating while they were here; they were just going to make up a plan as they went.”
ResLife will offer stipends to students who register for break housing who are also eligible for Pell Grants — a national standard of financial need. Students who are not Pell Grant-eligible, but who need financial aid to afford food over break while on campus, can also reach out to ResLife or the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI).
“Student Council has proposed — and I am supportive of this — some type of application process that wouldn’t be arduous, but that would require students to request aid,” Engel- Hellman said. “ is would be good for students who aren’t Pell-eligible but who do think they’re eligible for this program, in which case we would make an individual decision.”
In past years, the Center for Global Engagement (CGE) and ODEI have worked with ResLife to stock refrigerators around campus with food that could be prepared by students. Other years, these offices provided students with two meals per day. Engel-Hellman did not provide specifics about these programs.
“It’s difficult because we don’t know who needs it, and just because you work with one of those o ces doesn’t mean you necessarily have financial need,” Engel-Hellman said. “Really what we’re after is to create a program for students who don’t have any other options, who can’t leave campus and who may not have the money to eat.”
Jess Kusher ’19 studied the cost of a week of meals at the Village Market for her Human Ecology class and found that high Market prices are not financially viable for students.
“We went to the market and looked at the prices of food and tried to create meals for a week based on the average amount of money that food stamps allot,” Kusher said. “We learned that the area of Gambier is within an urban food desert, which makes it really unreasonable for students to feed themselves, especially over breaks when Peirce is closed.” An “urban food desert” is a region where healthful foods and produce are so expensive that it is not feasible to buy them, forcing people to buy cheaper, less healthy foods.
The CGE, ODEI and ResLife do not have funding for break meals written into their budgets. Past over-break meal programs were organized using unallocated funding; this year, Student Council will be supplementing this with funding from their budget surplus. Engel-Hellman held meetings with Director of Student Engagement Laura Kane, Associate Director of Student Engagement Kim Blank, Student Council President Phillip Gray Clark ’17, Vice President of Student Life Emma Mairson ’17, BFC Co-Chair Guillermo García ’17 and Senior Class President Sam Clougher ’17 to discuss funding for Spring Break and the future of other academic break meal programs.
“In previous meetings, we vaguely agreed that the extra money should go to some form of equity fund,” Clougher said. “Our main concern was the cost, so right now this payment is just for this Spring Break; future budgets will be decided at a later date.”
Clougher has witnessed firsthand the difficulty of procuring meals over break.
“I have been lucky and been able to afford groceries and been able to borrow a car, but not everyone is so fortunate,” Clougher said. “ There are students who have had to stockpile food from Peirce and scout for free meals when Peirce is closed.”
In light of the recent, widely read New York Times study about income inequalities at the College, Engell-Hellman wanted to highlight the inclusive nature of this program.
“The crux of this is Kenyon saying to students without the financial resources of other students that they are just as valuable a part of our community,” Engel-Hellman said. “We want to be sure they are able to be here and eat.”