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Members Ohio State University Retirement Association knew that they wanted to implement a new project to support students; the only question is what form this support will take.

The organization of retired Ohio faculty and staff has been helping the university for a long time, and its members are always looking for different ways to make an impact. In 2019, when the OSURA board learned that food insecurity was a problem for a significant number of students on the Columbus campus, they knew they had to help solve the problem.

Through the University Development Program, OSURA created the Ohio State University Retirement Association Benevolent Fund to combat student food insecurity and began fundraising immediately. The fund has now reached the $100,000 mark.

“OSURA’s board and members considered many options for this project, but decided that the best approach would be to help students,” said then-OSURA President Stephen D’Ambrosio. “The campus food pantry was just getting started. [in 2018]. We organized a few food campaigns and small donations, but we wanted to do more. We wanted to help them provide some financial stability.”

A 2017 study on university financial well-being found that 14.7% of undergraduate students at Ohio State reported very poor food security.

Food insecurity can lead to barriers for students, including but not limited to classroom distractions, lower grades, absenteeism, or dropping out of school. Some studies have shown that student averages and university retention can be improved if universities take steps to address food insecurity on their campuses.

Food insecurity can also put students at greater risk of adverse mental health outcomes, obesity, diabetes, and inadequate eating patterns that persist well beyond their college years.

The Student Life Student Recreation Center operates an on-campus student pantry. Buckeye Food Alliance (BFA) the pantry, located in Lincoln Tower, is available to all Ohio State students and distributes hundreds of pounds of food each week, including staples such as fresh produce, milk, eggs, meats, meat substitutes, and personal care items. As a customer choice food pantry, students can choose their own food, allowing them to better meet their nutritional needs. The pantry is run by students for students and employs 15-20 student volunteers, one or two graduate students, and one staff member.

The BFA also provides educational activities, and since food insecurity often co-occurs with other issues, the BFA works to connect students to other campus and community support resources they may need.

The pantry received 5,160 visits in 2020-21, which is a record number and is approaching or exceeding that level this year.

“Food insecurity is a real problem on college campuses across the country,” says Buckeye Food Alliance coordinator Nick Fowler. “This complex problem cannot be solved by one person or one organization alone. Joint efforts are required so that not a single boar remains hungry. Thanks to the university and amazing donors like OSURA, we can take another step towards seeing a world where Ohio is food insecure.”

The donation from OSURA will help ensure that the BFA has a reliable income stream to support its mission for years to come. This income will support the purchase of nutritious and inclusive foods, support general operations, and allow BFA to plan ways to continue to support students holistically.

Several donors have sponsored challenge matches with donations ranging from $5,000 to $10,000. Each of these challenges has been overcome. OSURA is still accepting donations to the fund and expects donations to continue to grow.

“The response from our members was so touching,” said former OSURA President Margaret Teeford. “Their commitment to the fund, especially during the pandemic, is very helpful. What started as an attempt to give the state of Ohio a 150th anniversary gift has grown into this charitable foundation; we are very pleased with the results!”

Since its founding in 1983, OSURA has enhanced the well-being of its members through educational, cultural and recreational programs, as well as educating them about state and university pension policies and benefits.

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