CLARION – It’s not necessarily uncommon to find college students in need, experiencing food insecurity or difficulty providing for basic necessities owing to limited finances or changes in living circumstances. Fortunately Clarion University has got those in financially precarious situations covered through its Student Resource Room.
Kelly Ryan, assistant director in Clarion University’s Center for Student Engagement and Development since 2008, traces the origin of the Resource Room to 2015 or 2016 when faculty and staff in Becht Hall noticed students with whom they were working had unaddressed needs. In response, they began bringing items for these students, primarily food, soap and shampoo, that were then stored in a large closet. What initially began as a small group effort has since grown to a campus-wide initiative, now occupying a mid-size room in the Gemmell Student Complex.
“In the spring of 2017 we moved from Becht Hall to Gemmell Complex and tried to make it (the Resource Room) more standardized so that we could say, ‘Hey, you know what, if you are in need we have these things.’ We built it up so now we have food, hygiene products, household cleaning products, winter accessories, school supplies, and even some linens, sheets, a couple light blankets and pillowcases,” Ryan said.
The Resource Room relies primarily on donations from faculty, staff, individual students, and student organizations. “For the first several years it was literally faculty and staff. There were a few major contributors who brought in stuff just about every week,” Ryan said. “And not small amounts either, it was very generous. The past couple of years we started having a decent amount of donations from students and student organizations.”
Donations have also been received from other sources. In 2019 the Clarion University Black Alumni group gave money raised during its annual “Party for a Purpose” to the Resource Room, with funds earmarked for products designed to meet the needs of Black and minority students. Contributions have even come from those unaffiliated with the university.
“Things have come in from all over the place. We had a woman who found out about the resource room, her sister lives in town and she’s from North Carolina. She donated $100 a month just because she heard about it and thought that it was a good effort for the students and she wanted to help,” Ryan said.
Though Ryan is responsible for overseeing the operation of the Resource Room, she does so with the assistance of many others, including a student advisory group representing various campus constituencies. The advisory group helps Ryan determine what products are needed and also reaches out to students who might benefit.
Discussing the role of the advisory group, Ryan said, “They’ve helped us with things like types of products, brands of products. Whenever possible we try to buy generic or store brand, but sometimes there are things we don’t even know about and they give good guidance with that.
“They also reach out to students, making sure that those who need us most know we’re there. They are pretty good at coming up with things that we can do or to bring attention to the Resource Room. A lot of times students feel more comfortable talking to other students.”
Food is most in demand, with paper products and cleaning products running second. Regarding food, Ryan has observed some variability by semester. “It seems like it’s a little different by semester. One of the all-around, all-time number one things is macaroni and cheese, preferably in the cups that can be microwaved. Some I think depends on the season. In the colder months we go through a lot more soups and microwave meals. We go through a decent amount of breakfast items, not necessarily cereal, but bars and things that people can grab and go,” Ryan said.
Because of the coronavirus, using the Resource Room has changed, with students now able to order items online for curbside pick-up. Ryan believes the change in operation was needed and appreciates the impetus the pandemic provided. “One of the issues that we’ve had and really struggled to find a way around is some students saying they feel a stigma when coming out of the room with stuff,” Ryan said. “COVID sort of forced us to solve a problem that existed.”
For their part, students appreciate what the university community has done to help ease a burden that could potentially make attending college even more difficult.
“The students who use the Resource Room are kind, gracious, grateful,” Ryan said. “They are almost always the ones thinking about how they can share more with other people. They’re not trying to take as much stuff as they can fit in a bag, but concerned how they can extend what we have on hand so others can benefit.”