Last year, the University Credit Union (UCU) concluded its second campaign to alleviate food insecurity throughout the University of Maine System. The Ending Hunger on Campus Campaign was launched in December of 2017 with the intent of recognizing those who are subject to food insecurity and providing them with necessary relief.
Over the course of its second annual campaign, UCU raised a total of $25,119.62 to be used toward preventing student hunger.
Created in 1967, UCU is a full-service financial institution dedicated to supporting students, employees and alumni across the seven System campuses. As well as working to reduce food insecurity, UCU assists its members by providing them with loans and helps their members learn financial management skills through financial literacy programs.
UCU is currently the seventh-largest credit union in Maine in terms of assets and the fifth largest in terms of membership. Its eight retail locations include Orono, Bangor, Farmington, Gorham, Portland and Presque Isle.
In a recent study, the University of Wisconsin’s HOPE Laboratory determined that as of April 2018 nearly 36 percent of America’s university students could be considered food insecure, with the percentage of community college students being significantly higher.
The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report in December of the same year analyzing the state of food insecurity on college campuses.
“Having a low income is the most common risk factor for food insecurity among college students,” the GAO report stated. “Among low-income students, most have one additional risk factor associated with food insecurity, such as being a first-generation student or a single parent.”
UCU’s second campaign, which began on Nov. 26, 2018, raised more than triple the $8,000 of its 2017 effort. For the first time, UCU promised that it would match each contribution of up to $25,000 and that all donations would be distributed to the eight self-funded food pantries within the University of Maine System.
These food pantries assist not only students but also System employees and members of each campus’ community.
“Our number one goal has been to build a momentum of support for campus food pantries, which rely entirely on their own fundraising and volunteers to operate,” Matthew Walsh, the president and CEO of UCU, said in a press release. “These pantries meet an incredibly important need and deserve our ongoing support.”
“There are no criteria necessary for students wishing to access the Black Bear Exchange,” Lisa Morin, the Black Bear Exchange’s coordinator, said. “Some people experience situational need randomly throughout the year while others come in regularly. Students are just required to show their MaineCard.”
Of the approximate $25,000 that was raised in last year’s campaign, $8,725.46, or more than a third, was allocated to the Black Bear Exchange.
Similar to its function as a food pantry, Black Bear Exchange acts as UMaine’s own thrift store. Open to anyone, the store allows people to donate, swap or exchange clothing that they may no longer need, and its profits are then used to purchase more food for the pantry. The exchange also allows UMaine students to organize their own food or clothing drives and can provide them with assistance in doing so.
“As with any food program, there are times during the year when donations are plentiful, and there are times when they are not,” Morin explained. “The funding we receive from UCU helps to get us through those slow times. It can cost $1,000 a month or more to keep our shelves stocked, and our need is increasing. During the [2018–19] school year, we have seen an average of 6 new people each week. We have already logged over 700 visits and have distributed over 7,000 lbs of food.”
“The University Credit Union’s campaign to end food insecurity among students has made a tremendous impact at UMaine,” UMaine’s Interim Chief of Staff and Assistant Vice President for Student Life and Senior Associate Dean of Students Kenda Scheele said. “Its generous donation has allowed the Black Bear Exchange on campus to help and support so many of our students. It has really made an impact, and we are very grateful for its efforts and generosity.”
Those interested in starting a food drive or volunteering with the Black Bear Exchange are advised to contact Lisa Morin through her email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. For further information, the Bodwell Center for Service and Volunteerism is located at 55 York Village on Orono’s campus and can be reached at 207-581-3091.