In an effort to ensure students’ academic success without having to worry about basic necessities, the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma created a task force to find ways to address pressing issues that many students face outside of their studies, such as food insecurities, clothing and transportation services.
USAO President John Feaver commissioned the This College Takes Care of Me Task Force in 2017 to improve the university’s food pantry, known as the Campus Co-op. Since then, the group has introduced new services such as a biweekly free clothing closet and transportation services around Chickasha.
“Many of USAO’s students are first generation college students or come from low income families,” said Alexis Avery, head of student relations for the Neill-Wint Center for Neurodiversity and co-chair of the task force. “The Co-op provides supplemental assistance for students facing food insecurities so they can worry about their classes instead of where their next meal will come from.”
The Campus Co-op provides students with a variety of food items, as well as toiletries and other household necessities. Recently, USAO became a partner agency with the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, which will provide a significant discount for food purchases among other benefits. During a campus visit, Dave Wattenbarger, community connections manager for southern Oklahoma, noted that over last few years colleges have been creating food pantries to assist the growing number of students who struggle to meet their nutritional needs.
“Being partners with the Regional Food Bank will provide us more food at a discounted price, and will also give us more resources to share with individuals who might be in need and qualify for programs like WIC and SNAP. USAO is one of many college institutions in the state to team up with this great organization,” said Avery.
In addition to the Campus Co-op, This College Takes Care of Me Task Force began “Twice New Thrift” last year to provide gently used seasonal clothes, as well as shoes, accessories and even children’s clothes free to students. Held every other week, the service has proved particularly beneficial to international students, many of whom do not have adequate clothing for Oklahoma’s notoriously inconsistent weather.
“A year ago, we found out some of our international students did not have winter clothes,” said Avery. “I asked around and realized that this was a more extensive issue in the student body, and one we could address. We have had amazing support from everyone on campus!”
The task force has also partnered with the Baptist Collegiate Ministries, as well USAO faculty and staff, to provide transportation to key locations in Chickasha.
Given the tight budgets facing public institutions, the This College Takes Care of Me Task Force has no designated funding and relies on donations for every service it administers.
“Aside from some startup funds from President Feaver, everything we do is thanks to the generosity of our faculty, staff and community,” said Avery.
As an alumna, Avery’s personal experience at USAO both in and out of the classroom has strongly motivated her to improve the lives of other students.
“The types of issues the task force is tackling reflects the larger societal problem that is not just in Oklahoma,” said Avery. “The liberal arts education I received from USAO focused on how supporting individuals within society benefits everyone. I am grateful to work in an environment where addressing issues on basic human necessities is on the forefront of the university’s concern. Our goal is to improve students’ academic success by helping them with access to food, clothes and transportation.”
For more information, including specifics about donations, contact Avery at 405-574-1279 or firstname.lastname@example.org.