College students incur many expenses that can pile up. Tuition, books, and rent are all part of the finances students must keep track of that can become overwhelming.
All the other fines and fees can strain one of the most important areas of spending – food. It can be easy to forget that many struggle to make ends meet at college.
To alleviate this issue, the Office of Sustainability offers help. The office promotes sustainability in several forms and hosts a variety of events to promote awareness and support of sustainability-related issues.
Though in the past they have promoted the environmental side of sustainability, they have begun making efforts to raise awareness about “social sustainability.”
“Social sustainability is how we look at wanting everyone to have a good quality of life,” Linsey Abernathy, associate director of the Office of Sustainability and staff advisor of the Ole Miss Food Bank, said.“We don’t want to just focus on one set of people … We want everyone to have access to those basic needs.”
One way the Office of Sustainability has promoted social sustainability is through the student-run Ole Miss Food Bank. This service allows students to come to Kinard Hall and attain food supplies if they can’t afford to buy any.
“The mission there is to try and make sure that all students have access to food,” Abernathy said. “We’re also trying to provide healthier, fresher food, so that students who are using it have access to fruits and vegetables.”
To help supply the Food Bank with fruits and vegetables, the Office of Sustainability has partnered with the Garden Club to grow produce for the organization.
“We’re just really proud of the partnership between the Garden Club (and the Food Bank),” Abernathy said. “It’s great to just have students growing fresh foods for other students.”
Along with fresh produce, the Food Bank also provides recipes for students to take home. The organization uses these to promote independence among students and sustainability, as less waste will be generated by students cooking their own recipes instead of processed foods.
“I think people will always be motivated by food,” senior Blake McClure said. “It’s kind of a motivation for them to go out and actually cook something that is more healthy and appropriate for a good diet.”
McClure is the director of the Food Bank, and has been involved with the organization since he started in college.
“I’ve always been involved with food banks,” McClure said. “I’ve worked with food banks since middle school. I started out as a volunteer here my freshman year and worked my way up to being director now.”
For their functions, the Food Bank is operated primarily on donations from individuals and other organizations. Boxes also exist across campus for students to drop off anything they would like to donate.
“I’d say having access to healthy food is pretty important,” McClure said. “If you don’t have the nutrients you need, you’re not going to be able to perform well.”
When it comes to availability, McClure spoke critically of Oxford. Lafayette County is classified as a food desert, which means that in many places in the county, there is not reasonable access to healthy and organic food choices. For many households in the county, grocery stores are either unavailable or out of the way for families.
As the organization has grown, both McClure and Abernathy have seen the impact it has made on students firsthand, and how it’s helped some students who are in need financially.
“I’ve unlocked the door for students who have just broken down to be able to have a meal because they didn’t realize that this resource existed,” Abernathy said.
This past year, McClure has focused on increasing visibility and knowledge of the food bank across the student body. The organization hosted events to further this goal, oftentimes setting up tables on Business Row and allowing signups to keep students notified of volunteer opportunities.
Social media has also helped, with the organization revitalizing its Facebook account this past semester.
“Compared to the year I joined,” McClure said, “I think we’ve doubled our volunteer group. We send out emails to around 250 to 300 volunteers each week.”
As he graduates Ole Miss, McClure wishes for the priority of visibility to continue into the next semester.
Abernathy shares McClure’s views in making visibility a priority for the organization. During the next semester, the Office of Sustainability plans to outline where it will take the organization and what ways it can further make itself known.
“There are all kinds ideas that I think we can do to get the word out,” Abernathy said. “We roll it out in phases, so we’ll do a push again in fall when there are new students here.”