Through the Ramily Market and new JeffSecure fund, University assists students in need.
On some days, Ismael Caceres only could afford to eat a single meal.
“We haven’t had food stamps in my house for I don’t know how long,” says the freshman industrial design student. “You can’t even imagine how much I was struggling.”
Then, Dr. Henry Humphreys, dean of students on Jefferson’s East Falls Campus, guided Caceres to two vital University assistance programs. The new student emergency fund, JeffSecure, covered his bus pass for November and December, and the Ramily Market provided him with free non-perishable food.
Through both of these efforts, Caceres says he could save some money and climb back to level ground.
“I was ecstatic,” he says, stressing that students in similar situations shouldn’t struggle alone. “There is help.”
With support from the Office of the Provost and donations from the University community, Jefferson launched JeffSecure earlier this semester. The fund helps all students (undergrad, graduate, online, and continuing and professional studies) who need assistance with unexpected or unavoidable emergency expenses.
“We’ve come to realize, like many universities across this country, that some of our students struggle with social determinants of health—housing instability, food insecurity and poverty,” says Dr. Charles Pohl, vice provost of student affairs. “The learning environment is very complex, and we want to make sure our students are well and there are no obstacles in the way so they can be academically successful. We look at this as a great opportunity to take care of our own.”
Through a confidential online form, students can request financial support, and Jefferson faculty and staff can nominate people in need as well. In one case, public safety found a student sleeping in the library and the fund steered him toward temporary housing.
JeffSecure offers short-term assistance for surprise medical expenses, unsafe living conditions, travel home due to a death in the family and more, such as gas money, cash for books and school supplies, and financial support for a totaled car. The fund, however, can’t be used for health insurance and tuition.
Dozens of people already have received support through JeffSecure, including one student living in a shelter with her two children, Dr. Humphreys says. The fund supplied her with a loaner computer to replace her stolen one, helped to pay phone bills and pointed her toward a food pantry, which in turn, connected her with community resources to find housing.
“We’ve seen a lot at this point,” Dr. Humphreys acknowledges. “When you walk around campus, everyone looks like they’re doing OK, but you would be surprised by how many students here live paycheck to paycheck. Their families are scraping together the bare resources for them to go to school.”
A Safe Space
Often called a “hidden crisis,” food insecurity continues to trouble campuses across the country. In fact, a recent survey showed 45% of college students nationwide battled food insecurity in the prior 30 days.
“Many students don’t know what food insecurity is,” explains Everette Nichols, Jefferson’s assistant director of diversity and social justice in the Office of Student Engagement. “They think it’s students going through the worst times of their lives and living in extreme poverty, but it’s really not. It’s a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. With one paycheck, they may have to decide, ‘Will I pay this bill or go to the grocery store?’ It’s a tough decision.”
We want to make sure our students are well and there are no obstacles in the way so they can be academically successful.
—Dr. Charles Pohl
Jefferson set up the Ramily Market behind the information desk in the Kanbar Campus Center three years ago to supply students with free non-perishable goods and hygiene products—all donated by the University community. They also can receive gift cards for the grocery store for fresh food and more vegan and gluten-free options.
Students can take as much as they want, as well as return as frequently as they need, says Nichols, noting they’re exploring adding resources similar to the Ramily Market on the Center City Campus. The University doesn’t track students by their name; they’re just asked to fill out a short voluntary survey to gain a better understanding of the demographics.
Over 100 students have used the market this year, Nichols says. More than half of respondents said an unexpected large expense prompted the trip.
Graphic design communication student Shablee Scott has regularly visited the market over the past year. She often comes in for soup, pasta and shower supplies.
“It means a lot to have access to this and to have someone notice students are struggling here,” she says. “It’s one less thing for me to worry about. It takes a lot of the stress off.”
Carson Eckard, a community and trauma counseling student, has used the market for the last two years, but he also works there as a way to give back and help others.
“I feel like a lot of people come in with some sense of shame, which is unfortunate,” he says. “Everyone working here has a level of humility and respect. This is a safe space. In college, free food is like a blessing. It’s a resource that definitely should be used.”
Even with the Ramily Market and JeffSecure, Dr. Humphreys knows some students may struggle with asking for or accepting help. He offers a simple message for them: Never feel guilty about receiving assistance, and if it’s ever financially feasible in the future, donate to the fund or market so others can benefit.
“The idea is to pay it forward,” he says, “not pay it back.”
See below for the Ramily Market donation wish list of non-perishable food and personal items.