By Hannah Kieffer
Grand Rapids Community College’s Student Life staff has seen a drastic increase in students that need help. Students have been significantly affected by the many changes to both their college environment and their personal lives. Considering the massive spike in unemployment in March and April, it is not surprising that a large number of students felt overwhelmed with few options.
Getting students the help they needed became a large obstacle during a pandemic. Shenna Weaver, GRCC’s Student Life office manager, has helped many students throughout these challenging times.
“When the coronavirus first hit, things were a tad more difficult,” stated Weaver.“It was the not knowing – not knowing how can we still provide these resources to students with all the guidelines. But putting our heads together helped us create ways around barriers in a safe and healthy way. Since COVID has been here I would say it has shown us how resilient our office /campus is. In the end our main goal is the students and we want students to know we are here and ready to help in the safest and healthiest way.”
Student Life offers many helpful services for students. Lina Blair, Director of Student Life and Conduct, stated that based on a recent survey conducted over the summer 35% of students were food insecure, and another 35% were housing insecure during the coronavirus pandemic.
Blair said about 60 students per semester would visit the food pantry before the pandemic, but the numbers shot up as the virus spread and the local economy shut down.
“Since March, we have helped over 400 different students, and distributed more than 1,300 packages of food,” said Blair.
Having a place students can go to for help can make a large impact on their wellbeing, although many students have admitted to being apprehensive about seeking help.
“There are a whole lot of people who want to help, and are ready to help,” Blair said, adding that the Student Life office is a judgment free zone focused on helping students.
Besides food distribution, Student Life can also assist in providing bus passes, for students needing transportation.
“I feel like the biggest challenge is students not knowing what and how much we offer,” said Weaver. “So we are always working on ways to get the word out to students. I do believe COVID has opened that door a little for us. COVID has helped bring a lot more awareness to the food pantry and that has been a huge accomplishment for the food pantry.”
Laptop and hot spot loans are a new addition to Student Life, with so many students not being able to afford the unexpected expense of computers this semester. It has become very important to ensure students are able to complete their coursework regardless of location.
Students in need assistance of any kind are encouraged e to reach out to Student Life. A list of resources can be found on GRCC’s Get Help webpage.
When asked about how students can help fellow students, Weaver said, “I would say donating to the food pantry is one of the best ways they can help other students. They could also help by spreading the word to other students at GRCC about the Get Help page (and) food pantry so that we can help students in need.”
A list of needed items regularly distributed by the food pantry can be found on GRCC’s food assistance webpage.