Students volunteer to can hunger

Lee-Anna Bardun

United Way food drive benefits Portage County

Kent State United Way has been collecting non-perishable food items this month as part of a Portage County food drive.

Students can volunteer from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. tomorrow in Risman Plaza to help gather non-perishable food items and collect food donations from 30 Kent neighborhoods.

The food drive is part of an effort to help county residents who are struggling. Senior special assistant Anna Gosky has been helping students with United Way connect with volunteer groups. Gosky said with the current economic situation, the food drive is more important this year than in previous years.

“Food banks are low now because during the summer, families have a greater need for food, because kids are home and are not getting subsidized breakfasts and lunches provided by schools,” she said.

Also, with the approaching winter months, rising heat and energy bills make it harder for low-income families to buy basic needs such as food.

“There’s a big need in Portage County right now, unemployment figures are around 10.3 percent, but that doesn’t count people who are working fewer hours than they were maybe a year ago,” Hook said.

United Way 211 Portage is a helpline that provides services for Portage County residents. From Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, 9,214 calls were made requesting help for basic needs, showing an increase of 2,277 calls from the previous year. These basic needs include food, housing, material resources, temporary financial aid and transportation.

“There is a great need in Portage County to make food available to people who are in need,” Gosky said. “This year, need is greater than in recent years.”

The county is clearly in need and the university is doing its part to help, Gosky said.

“Students have been a major player in what we’ve done on campus,” she said.

Chris Hook, junior French and international relations major, has been involved in United Way since his freshman year. The group’s board consists of five juniors. Hook said he has always wanted to be involved with volunteer work since coming to college.

“Volunteering is one of the best things you can do with your time,” he said.

Hook said about 85 bins have been set up in residence halls and academic buildings to collect non-perishable food items. Mail services have been very cooperative to help collect food, he said.

“Last year, we got 2,000 pounds of food, and within one week, it was gone from all the food pantries,” Hook said.

Portage County has 14 different food pantries where collected food items will be distributed. This year’s goal is to collect 10,000 pounds of food, Hook said. Kent State is in a friendly competition with Robinson Memorial Hospital, which raises about 10,000 pounds of food annually for the food drive, he said.

Not only students, but also community members have contributed to the food drive, Hook said.

“We have one woman who we call ‘our angel,'” Hook said. “(She) donated about $300 worth of canned goods, which was probably about 200 pounds of food, which was a really huge deal.”

Gosky said students and community members can still make donations to the food drive by dropping off items in the Student Center or at Risman Plaza Saturday.

Hook said getting out and volunteering is a great experience for students. Since he grew up in Kent, Hook says he has a “deep connection” with the community.

“It’s a great feeling when you know you’ve really helped someone,” Hook said. “Luckily, there’s a lot of students on campus who feel the same way. If you’re not doing anything on a Saturday morning, why not come out and volunteer, get outside, meet some new people and make the world a bit better than it was when you woke up?”

Contact student life reporter Lee-Anna Bardun at [email protected].