NORTH CANTON, Ohio--– Just a couple months into their freshman year at Walsh University in North Canton, Mattison Davis and Tara Ebert are already tackling a real-life crisis: hunger.
"Football guys, I would say, come to class hungry a lot. And even my girlfriends they come to class hungry," Davis said.
"It's stressful to think that this is my responsibility now and it's no longer my parents buying me the little things and big things, it's me now,” Ebert said.
University faculty and staff recently learned there were students on campus, particularly commuters, who were going without food and attending class hungry. They immediately took action.
Inside the university’s Drexel House, they stocked shelves inside a 12-by-12-foot room with food including cereal, peanut butter and jelly, and even toiletries. The student-run pantry, called "Cavs Cave" offers food free of charge to anyone in need.
"It's something that students felt was a need and we wanted to help fulfill that. Their goal is to be successful here, and in order to do that, we want to remove any of those barriers," said Carrilyn Long, professor and student adviser.
Ninety-eight percent of Walsh University students are on discounted tuition, either through financial aid or scholarships. But there can be restrictions in using that money for incidentals, including food.
According to the Akron-Canton Food Bank, in Stark County, the food insecurity rate is at 14.2 percent.
Walsh University, which has led community discussions on addressing hunger, is planning to conduct a more formal survey on campus this spring to determine the food insecurity rate among students.
As student leaders, Davis and Ebert will help run and organize the pantry, with more than 2,300 donated food items from 50 different donors in the first week of operation.
“Sure, the problem is real. Sure, it's embarrassing, but there's help out there."