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At the Table

Studies report Dayton is the second worst city in the nation for food hardship in households with children, and one in six Miami Valley residents are uncertain of their next meal. So the University of Dayton is working with several community partners to end food insecurity in the region.

 "It comes down to the core of who we are at UD. Our mission is very much about community, Catholic social teaching, and helping the poor and vulnerable," said Kelly Bohrer, director of community engaged learning at the Fitz Center, who helps faculty build partnerships related to food issues and teaches a sustainability course that engages students with community partners on such topics as food justice. "Students, faculty and staff are coming together with the Dayton community to imagine a more hopeful future of no hunger and to mobilize assets and people to realize this future."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's food desert finder shows most residents in Dayton and urban centers throughout Montgomery and surrounding counties don't have access to a full-service grocery store within a mile of home, which is considered walking distance, or within 10 miles in rural areas.

“We like to think Americans are eating poorly because they can and it tastes better, and we think of hunger as an issue in other worlds," UD student Sarah Richard said. "It was so shocking to me to learn this simple thing you take for granted — eating three times a day — is a struggle for people a mile away from my front door, not just because they don't have enough money but also because they don't have access. Every person deserves to have food on their table."

Faculty staff and students from dietetics, English, engineering, computer science and business, art and design, and sustainability studies, among others, are helping on a variety of projects to improve food security in the region.

“UD is a phenomenal anchor institution and has a lot of intellectual and community resources, along with the passion of the students and faculty,” said Etana Jacobi, manager of the Hall Hunger Initiative. “Under President Eric Spina's leadership, the University has made a clear commitment that what is good for Dayton is good for UD.”

Students in a business operations course improved the organization and efficiency of the Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley Choice Food Pantry, the way volunteers are used, and the logistics of its food distribution ticket system.

Kellie Schneider, assistant professor in the department of engineering management, systems and technology, and her students helped The Foodbank with work related to logistics for truck routing and compliance auditing. They were able to reduce the miles driven to collect donations from local retailers by several hundreds miles a week, which saved The Foodbank enough money to provide an additional 400 meals a week for the community. The students also designed a rainwater collection system for The Foodbank's garden, then raised funds for the materials and built the system.

“Most of my students are computer science and engineering majors, but I hope they take away that they can use their technical skills to benefit their community,” Schneider said. “As engineers and computer scientists, we have a skill set we can use to make these social service agencies more efficient and effective and to help measure impact.”

More than 50 students from nearly a dozen disciplines, under the umbrella of the University's Hanley Sustainability Institute, are assisting with work at Lincoln Hill Gardens. The institute partnered with Mission of Mary Cooperative and East End Community Services to transform part of a previously vacant 5-acre site into an urban farm and community green space. The partners recently added an orchard, thanks to a gift from Vectren, and nature playscape. In its first two years, Lincoln Hill Gardens produced nearly 2 tons of produce for 80 families, plus more to be sold at local markets. 

"The hope is that students, learning from the Marianist perspective on civic engagement, will be active in their future communities to address critical social issues such as this," Bohrer said. "President Spina said UD's vision is to work for the common good and engage with the community on solving these big, wicked problems — food insecurity being one of them in Dayton.

"This is not something we do in our spare time but part of what, how and why we educate students and who students are. Being involved in this issue helps students grow in servant-leadership skills and learn how to come to the table with many people, building on community assets to address problems — and hopefully make things better for all."


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