Posted by: Brian Musser | June 12, 2012

Churches Connecting with Students: The Power of FOOD! Seriously!

Feed them and they will come.

It has become cliche that if you serve food, students will come.  I cannot begin to count how much pizza I have eaten at student events.  We have a couple of entities at Dexel that scour all of the event announcements for the week, highlighting the ones that offer free food and distributing that list to email subscribers.  The one business venture that would never fail even in tough economic times is someone selling cheap food (i.e. pizza) near a college campus.  We make jokes about starving college students and Ramen Noodles.  But the true story is more serious than the stereotypes.

Serious research on homelessness and hunger with college students.

Browse these news articles and you will see that there is a significant portion of college students that have real needs with food or housing.

www.dailybruin.com

auburnjournal.com

www.huffingtonpost.com

www.policyblognh.org

www.policyblognh.org (2)

abcnews.go.com

www.huffingtonpost.com (2)

www.npr.org

Many students are intentionally choosing going without food and/or housing in hopes that their educational investment will lead to a better life.  Some students have found enough financial aid for tuition but are left on their own when it comes to housing and food.  Other student’s family and financial situations have drastically changed while at college.  There are such things as starving college students.

Drexel is no different.

I have several personal stories that I could share from Drexel.  One of my student’s father had major medical issues that left him on extended disability.  This drastically reduced the financial means of the student.  He was evicted from his housing and spent over a year sleeping on a friend’s couch.  During this time I know of specific instances where the student bought groceries for others in need and sent money home to help his family.  Another student’s father is the owner of a small engineering business that saw a 50% decline in business while the student was at Drexel.  The student was able to find enough financial aid to cover tuition and housing but not food.  He spent a term sleeping on the floor in his apartment, eating whatever he could find for free and borrowing text books from friends or the library.  The final student I’ll choose to talk about (but not the last story I have) parent’s defaulted on their home loan.  This left the student without a co-signer for their student loans.  She either had to become financially stable herself or find another co-signer before she could finish her last year at Drexel.

I’m not telling these things as sob stories to manipulate your heart-strings.  I hope you can see the amazing opportunity for the Body of Christ, the Church, has to minister to the real physical needs of college students.  Below is a list of ideas you and/or your church could do to help college students out with food or housing.

12 things you could do.

1)  Actually look a student you know in the eyes and ask them when was the last time they had a good meal.  Some students maybe embarrassed to admit how seldom they actually eat.  Be prepared to respond appropriately if the answer is less than satisfactory.

2)  Send a campus minister a gift card for a grocery store and/or local restaurant to be used when needs arise.  Many times I will take out my own wallet to get someone something they need.  Most campus ministers are support raising missionaries where what we have in our wallets comes from the funds donated by individuals and churches.  What is available in my wallet at times is not always enough to help out.  This could be away that we don’t have to worry about taking away from our own needs to meet the needs of students.  This is also a good way to help out if you are not physically close to a college  campus.

3)  Find an excuse to make a trip to campus to take a student out for a real meal.

4)  Have your church sponsor a food event for students.  If you already do this, find a way to make it regular.  If it is already a regular event find a way to get the word out to more students who need it.

5)  If your church has a food pantry consider how to make it available to qualifying college students.  Many students will qualify for government, state or local food assistance if that is a requirement for your food pantry.  But students don’t always know that so you may need to do some work to make the food pantry available.  (I want to give a quick shout out to The Foundry Church who’s food pantry has fed my students when they were seriously hungry.)

6)  Think about making your used furniture available to students before you dispose of it.

7)  Invite a student(s) over regularly for a meal after church.  Prepare enough to be able to send leftovers home with them.

8)  Teach a student how to cook.  Many students don’t know how to make a healthy affordable meal for themselves so they resort to microwaving things that have the nutritional value of cardboard.

9)  Care Packages.  Send them to students you know or to a campus minister so that he/she could pass them on to students in need.  This is another good way to help out when you are not physically close to a college campus.

10)  Teach a student how to shop well.  Teach them how to buy things that are affordable, sufficient, nutritional.  Teach them how to budget.  Teach them how to plan meals in advance.

11)  Coupons!!!  Most students don’t live one place long enough to even consider getting a newspaper.  Most students haven’t been shown the value of coupons.  Make the coupons you aren’t using available for students.

12)  Provide transportation for students to grocery stores.  Sometimes the cheaper grocery stores are at a distance from campus.  Sometimes students are limited to what they can buy by how much they carry comfortably carry from whatever overpriced convenience store is located within walking distance.  Having access to a car changes where they can shop, what they can buy, how much in advanced they can get and how much they can afford.  Schedule a regular time to take a student(s) to a good grocery store.

Those 12 ideas are easy ways for churches and individuals to connect with students through real needs.  The next 5 ideas are special circumstances.  These aren’t for everybody and some serious thought and prayer should be applied before doing them.  But I believe they could be some of the most meaningful ways we can invest in students.

5 things for you to consider.

1)  Consider using that empty room in your house to accommodate a struggling college student for free or for cheap.

2)  Consider providing the security deposit for a student looking to rent an apartment.

3)  Consider being the co-signer for a student loan.

4)  Consider coordinating an effort to create a scholarship program through your church.

5)  If you own or manage a business consider providing employment opportunities for college students.

I hope and pray that you and your church will look for deep and meaningful ways to help the real physical needs of college students.  Please, remember to also consider their spiritual needs as you are meeting their physical needs.  Also, keep the scorecard simple.  Even if you are only able to help one student that is a win.

One note:  We are in finals week at Drexel so please remember to keep us in prayer.  Here are 2 posts that have some suggestions about what to pray. (1) (2)

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