Group started to fill students' critical unmet needs

by Jeanne Baron
| WMU News
Graphic depicting canned food in a paper bag.

The project is seeking donations from the campus community.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Meeting critical unmet student needs is the aim of a new campus initiative that also will help build a culture of giving at Western Michigan University.

Called the Invisible Need Project, the multifaceted initiative kicked off this summer and is initially focusing on collecting food donations as well as establishing a Student Emergency Relief Fund to assist any WMU student facing immediate need.

"The first component of the project is creating a food pantry for students that will open Sept. 15. And we're relying on donations from the campus community to stock the pantry," says Julia P. Kuntz, a staff member in the Office of Development and Alumni Relations and one of the members of the committee of University employees spearheading the invisible need initiative.

"The project will engage WMU employees and purposefully include our students so they, too, can contribute to their fellow students but without an added financial burden."

The Student Emergency Relief Fund is being launched with a fundraising effort featuring a $10 student-designed T-shirt available in mid-September through various registered student groups, at athletic events and at the Campus Flagpoles on Western Wednesdays.

About the food pantry

The initial point of contact for students accessing the food pantry will be the reception area for the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs.

Students will be escorted to the pantry after showing their Bronco IDs to a staff member in that office and completing a short intake form. They will be able to "shop" in the pantry as often as every two weeks, if needed.

Invisible Need Project Committee members are looking for volunteers in each campus building to set aside food collection sites and regularly assist with having the donations picked up. Kuntz notes that the committee will provide the necessary containers, and the volunteers will be given a contact person to call when pick-up is needed.

According to the Invisible Need Project Committee, colleges and universities across the country are discovering that campus food banks are critically needed to serve students.

"As the cost of education rises and families struggle to make ends meet, many students cut back on their food budget to save money. Independent students are also in a dire predicament, as their resources may be extremely limited," the committee said in a selective email message announcing the new initiative.

"WMU has a proven, strong commitment to diversity and inclusion. Recognizing that socioeconomic status is an important aspect of diversity compels us to assist students in meeting their daily food needs. Helping students with basic requirements for daily living reduces stress, allows for increased focus on academic excellence, and supports persistence to graduation, while building a strong community."

What food items to donate

Only nonperishable food items in their original, commercially canned or packaged containers will be accepted.

To ensure food safety, the items must have intact labels and be in good condition (no rusty cans) as well as within their expiration dates. Alcoholic beverages will not be accepted, nor will items that are perishable, homemade or repackaged.

Foods that contribute to a nutritious meal will be especially welcome. Examples include:

  • Low-sodium soup.
  • Chicken, tuna and wild salmon.
  • Lentils and black, kidney and garbanzo beans.
  • Whole, unsalted nuts and seeds.
  • Brown and wild rice.
  • Steel-cut or rolled oats.
  • Whole-grain dry cereals and pastas.
  • Dried (preferred) or water-packed fruits and vegetables.
  • Olive oil and dried herbs and spices.
  • Peanut butter and honey.
  • Green and white tea.
  • One hundred percent fruit juice.
  • Shelf-stable soy, almond, rice and coconut milk.
  • Pasta sauce and condiments such as ketchup and barbecue sauce.

To volunteer for the Invisible Need Project, contact Karen Lamons in Residence Life at or (269) 387-4742.

For more information, visit or follow WMUInvisibleNP on Twitter.