Stereotypical college worries might include grade point averages or Friday night plans, but some students are struggling for basic needs.
To help these students, Matt Bush, a Chillicothe senior, and Dr. John Fisher, director of student services, opened the Hilltopper Resource Center in December 2019 at Ohio University (Chillicothe).
The center, which started as an old bookstore, was converted into a donation pantry. The first items stocked were dress clothes that students could use for job interviews.
Then, thanks to a donation from the Student Nursing Organization, the center received over 300 food items that filled the rest of the empty bookshelves. Hygiene items were donated by the Veterans Center as well.
Fisher says that the place has helped students remain focused on studies.
“We are helping someone stay on campus here. [The students] come here to go to school. They can get something to eat, and they can make their food without having to go anywhere,” Fisher says. “They can study … and hopefully that’s going to contribute to retention and succeeding as a student here.”
Bush had the idea to create the center from his social work internship. He wanted to make sure every student could access everyday items.
To get started, Fisher went to the Athens County Food Pantry in November 2019 for ideas on how to set up the center at Chillicothe. The center was then able to bring this plan to life, thanks to the donations it received.
“It might have been an idea, but it never would have happened had it not been for all the folks that have contributed to it and helped that idea become reality,” Fisher says.
Bush has been working to improve the center ever since. Almost every day, he spends time organizing the center, traveling to get donations, and keeping records. Now, students utilize the center weekly.
“I would love to see the center continue to grow,” Bush says.
Recently, a large donation was made by Chillicothe resident Ed Kunzelman, the founder of Petland. He donated a “trailer load” of clothes, Bush says. The donation gave the center an ample amount of women’s clothing and clothing racks to help make the center more organized.
“Without the donations we have received, none of this would have been possible, and I am so thankful for everyone involved,” Bush says.
It’s taken a lot of hard work to get the center up and running, but there is still progress to be made; goals have been set to further improve the center.
The staff will soon be accepting donations from companies, not just individual donors, so volunteers can ensure the center always has plenty of items that students need daily.
“I think right now the primary goal is just to have it consistently in operation,” Fisher says. “We want to professionalize it more, market it better, so people know that it exists.”
As of now, the center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, but Fisher would like students to be able to come and go as they please with just a swipe of their student ID.
The center is working on having consistent hours of operation every semester and keeping it student-run. The volunteers’ goal is to give back to their fellow Bobcats, with the help of the Military Veterans Resource Center, Dean of Ohio University (Chillicothe) Dwayne Nicely and multiple other donors.
“We will keep working until we can make the area as accessible and stocked as possible for students in need,” Fisher says.