Season of Giving, Reason for Thanks: Keeping WCU Affordable for Students
Fall semester 2021 has seen a plethora of ways West Chester University continues to expand, educate, and innovate in order to help students succeed, regardless of their level of need. One spotlight shone brightly on the issue of food insecurity for college students.
On September 13, State Senator Carolyn Comitta hosted a roundtable discussion at the University to examine solutions to food insecurity on college campuses. Student advocates and campus leaders currently facing these issues firsthand commented and state lawmakers, university officials, and representatives of nonprofit anti-hunger organizations offered potential solutions.
In Pennsylvania, lawmakers have introduced the Hunger-Free College Campuses Act (Senate Bill 719 and House Bill 1363), legislation that calls for establishing a grant program for institutions that take certain actions to eliminate hunger on their campuses, including providing a food pantry and establishing a hunger task force. The bill would also direct further study on the issue of food insecurity at Pennsylvania colleges and universities in order to inform the development of additional long-term solutions.
Since 2016, WCU has made available a Resource Pantry aimed at supporting student success by minimizing food and basic need insecurity and preparing students for life after graduation.
Demand has increased ten-fold since its opening. During the most recent in-person academic year (2018-2019), the pantry:
- served more than 800 students;
- recorded 5,100 total visits;
- distributed nearly 20,000 pounds of food;
- supplied students with 16,000 personal care products;
- distributed 2,600 school supplies; and
- provided more than 650 articles of clothing.
The brainchild of Tori Nuccio, WCU’s Deputy Director of Financial Aid and coordinator for the WCU Promise Program to support homeless and foster youth, the pantry is open to all WCU students. It is central to upholding the University’s mission to ensure student success and provide access to a college education, regardless of financial circumstances. Offering a supply of non-perishable food, fresh produce from campus gardens, personal care items, school supplies, and winter and career clothing, the Resource Pantry helps eliminate barriers to degree completion and empowers students to learn independent living skills and achieve long-term stability.
Said Nuccio, “WCU has strived to remove financial barriers and care for our students in need with the creation of emergency funds, a Resource Pantry, and a campus support Promise Program for homeless and foster youth. However, this year the University has acknowledged more families facing harder times and therefore has stepped up to find new and improved ways to meet students where they are.
“What better way to do that then to offer free coffee, hot chocolate, bagels, and donuts in the Quad for the remainder of the term and strike up conversations about how students are doing and what they need. This continued effort to engage with students helps us learn of continuing need and respond.”
Nuccio said those responses already include the following programs:
- Resource Fair and Coat Drive: Multiple departments collaborated to share resources, help students make vision boards to plan for success, and supply them with resources, including coats (in addition to the clothing at the pantry), to help them prepare for the winter.
- Thanks to a generous gift of $120,000 from Student Services, Incorporated (SSI) and PSECU, West Chester University students who carry a small semester balance that prevents them from scheduling classes for the next semester will be awarded monetary “micro awards” to help them move closer toward degree completion. SSI and PSECU have been helping WCU students with unmet financial need since 2018. In previous years, the gift has also helped students with necessities such as meals and books. Contributions from SSI and from donors (through the West Chester University Foundation) have been increased to support students in need of emergency funding and housing scholarships. Increased funding for housing and remaining balances enables students to cover balances, avoid additional debt, and register for the next term. Managed by the University’s Office of Financial Aid, these and other funds maximize meeting the needs of as many students as possible.
- Essential Utilities is stepping up in a big way to assist WCU students who depend upon the services provided by the Resource Pantry. Chairman, President, and CEO of Essential Utilities Christopher Franklin ’87 presented a gift of $75,000 on November 18 to help expand the pantry’s reception and intake area, including improvements to reduce stigma, protect privacy, and connect students with information about benefit programs. Understanding the importance of confidentiality, the gift will also fund the purchase of tablets that will enable student customers to initiate self-checkout of food and personal care items in private.
In addition, on September 22, Aramark presented a generous gift of $162,000 to support WCU students experiencing food insecurities, including those who are student-athletes. The presentation includes $50,000 to support five WCU 14-meal-per-week plans ($14,000); food donations for Sports Nutrition Fueling Stations ($16,000); and funding to support a graduate assistant position to manage Sports Nutrition Fueling Stations ($20,000). This is the largest single gift made to WCU by Aramark, a leader in the customer service business across food, facilities, and uniforms, and the Presenting Sponsor of the University’s Sesquicentennial Celebration.
And the Fund to Finish is a flexible emergency aid fund that offers small awards that arrive quickly to ensure a student will complete their degree.
Addressing student success by meeting their needs is also the heart of 150Forward: The Campaign for West Chester University, the University’s largest-ever comprehensive campaign. Launched in connection with WCU’s Sesquicentennial celebration on September 17, the goals of this $65-million comprehensive campaign are:
- Investing in Our Students. Break down barriers to education and foster accessibility through scholarships.
- Creating Opportunity. Provide opportunities for academic, civic, and professional growth, inside and outside the classroom, across our campus, and in our communities.
- Leading with Technology. Build a connected campus that features the technological advancements to meet the needs of an ever-changing world.