Grassroots initiative to provide meals for students gets boost from donor

October 30, 2023
By: Rebecca Cross

Editors note: This story first appeared in the 2023 Donor Impact Statement, Supporting the Whole Student,published in September. The annual publication highlights the impact of philanthropic support at the university.

Imagine having to choose between your rent and eating. With the rising costs of housing, gas, and food, that’s exactly the choice many college students are facing.

Worcester State students are not immune to food insecurity. A Worcester State Urban Action Institute self-study conducted before the pandemic revealed that close to a third of the university’s students struggle with hunger.

To combat this, in 2019, the Urban Action Institute, along with Student Affairs, Enactus, the Urban Studies Club, and a group of students, opened Thea’s Pantry, an on-campus food pantry funded by individual donations that allows students, faculty, staff, and alumni to take home up to 35 pounds of food each week. In the same year, students in the Urban Studies Club started a Swipe It Forward campaign, which allowed students to donate guest meal passes that can be used in the student hall. During the 2022-23 academic year, 1,573 meal swipes were donated by students to students.

Still, there are Worcester State students who are going without meals. That’s where the new Bedard Family Meal Plan Support Fund comes in. The fund provides an annual stipend of $1,500 that will be incrementally disbursed to support the greatest number of students throughout the year and will provide on-demand nutritional support to students throughout the academic year.

Alumnus and Foundation Board member David Bedard ’74 and his wife, Linda, have supported individual Worcester State students for years through the Bedard Family Scholarships, and they wanted to find a way to help even more students who needed essentials.

David grew up in a housing project and understands struggling to afford the basics. He realizes that going to college is a stretch for many students, and some may go without food to pay their tuition. “This program is as elemental as it gets,” he said. “You’ve got to have food in your belly in order to think.”

“There’s a time for learning, a time for earning, and a time for returning,” he added. “We’re at a point in life that I can’t imagine going hungry.” So, this is his time, he says, to support others.

Worcester State is committed to fighting hunger on campus. It has recently received a $75,000 Hunger Free Campus Initiative grant from the state of Massachusetts, which will support an 18-month effort to strategically address food insecurity on campus by exploring ways to provide for students’ immediate need for food while also developing long-term solutions.

Bedard hopes others will be inspired to donate more funds to similar programs. “We want it to grow and grow because the need is great. I would encourage others to make a difference at a very basic level, to nourish students physically so they can function mentally and get out there and change the world.”

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