Food insecurity exists everywhere, even on our own campus. Creating Caring Communities works everyday to create an inclusive environment that advocates and provides resources to students who may be facing difficult financial or personal situations. President and third-semester individualized law, social justice in families major Maria Kelley works endlessly to create a positive change in the community.
Academic advisor Alexandra Katz invented Creating Caring Communities four years ago. However, things have drastically changed within the program since then. When Kelley joined last year, there were only four members, all who identified as “independent students.” However, when she became president she was determined to expand to a larger community. Treasurer, secretary and third-semester double major in music education and vocal performance Brianna Chance teamed up with Kelley to create an all-encompassing CCC where everyone is welcomed. Together they did just that.
“We welcome everyone and encourage anyone to come to us, whether that be for support, help or someone to talk to,” Kelley said. “We want voices to be heard and feelings to be validated.”
The CCC even has several students who have transferred from the Hartford campus and then were introduced to the program through Katz or other faculty members. The CCC then worked to gather up the appropriate resources for these students and point them in the right direction. The program acts as a liaison between the first step and further help for many.
There’s two components to CCC: spreading awareness and current initiatives. One initiative that is currently taking place is a Food Insecurity Task Force in collaboration with Undergraduate Student Government. Along with this, smaller projects such as food drives and shelter drives for students are constantly being done. Kelley, along with the help of Katz, visits different departments around campus to raise awareness for food insecure students.
“We go to different departments on campus and wake them up to the hardships that our students face,” Kelley said.
Being a food insecure student presents numerous challenges, specifically when it comes to breaks. Students that do not have another living option are forced to pay large sums of money to remain on campus.
“It’s a system that is built against them, that doesn’t support them with food, resources or supplies,” said Kelley.
According to the Department of Residential Life, the winter recess housing cost is $700, and students must meet specific requirements in order to stay. For example, you must be enrolled in an in person winter intersession course, have proof of an academic internship and more. In order to eat, students must pay $180 per week for meals all seven days of the week or $130 per week for meals Monday through Friday.
“We have to do a lot of drives during break times, or before, because students do not have the money to pay to go to the dining hall,” said Kelley. “We have students who are closeby in homeless shelters, and access to food is difficult even there.”
The CCC is currently advocating that UConn decrease these numbers or provide students with some sort of financial assistance, however they have yet to receive a positive response.
“We shouldn’t have to beg to live,” said Kelley.
The Food Insecurity Task Force is set to be running for this upcoming winter break, where a surplus of students are expected to not have food. The CCC has been allocated $5,000 to buy food and deliver it to students who are experiencing difficult times.
One of the biggest challenges that Creating Caring Communities face is gaining help from UConn specifically. Kelley opened up about the difficulties that come along with receiving support from UConn officials in particular.
“I am grateful for the faculty and staff members that have reached out to support us,” she said. “We are getting a good amount of support externally, but were just waiting for that support internally.”
One specific moment that upset Kelley was the defunding of the Connecticut Commitment initiative, a program that would cover tuition for undergraduates and transfer students with household incomes below $50,000.
“They defunded Connecticut’s Commitment before defunding the police, which greatly hurt me and Brianna,” Kelley said. “The program was vital for minorities’ education.”
The more support that is available, the more students experiencing hardships can feel a sense of belonging. The lack of programs and university effort can give students a feeling of misplacement. However, Creating Caring Communities works to combat this.
Kelley found that students who speak up are particularly ones who are not facing challenges. She’s grateful to these people who advocate for others who may be too mentally exhausted to do so.
“Students who are going through these circumstances are usually just going through them,” she said. “They don’t have the time, energy or efforts to advocate for themselves or others in similar situations.”
Kelley is continually inspired by the amount of students who are working together to cultivate change and make a difference in their communities.
“As a product of the foster care system, I have seen first hand how these situations can have an impact on someone like myself,” she said. “When I came to UConn, I knew it was part of my mission to give back to my community and create actual change with policies and initiatives.”
Kelley has always been passionate for human and child rights, along with her love for advocating. She and Chance, along with the rest of the community, made Creating Caring Communities happen.
Anyone is welcomed to reach out to either Kelley (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Katz (Alex.email@example.com). Meetings are held every Thursday at 6 p.m., where various topics such as food insecurity, homelessness and the foster care system are discussed. Anyone is welcome to attend, whether facing difficulties or not. The CCC hopes to not only help students, but also advocate and initiate conversations about these important topics.