Invisible Need Project changes, broadens some services in response to pandemic

Contact: Erin Flynn

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—The COVID-19 pandemic has broad-ranging impacts, and it's taking a toll on all of us—physically, emotionally and financially. The Invisible Need Project, which works to ensure Western Michigan University students have their basic needs met, is broadening some of its services to accommodate these new challenges.

“Students are scared. Some students are away from their family and don’t have a local support net outside of the University,” says Kelly Reed, committee chair of the Invisible Need Project. “It doesn’t take care of all of the concerns and anxiety at this time, but INP can at least help with food and urgent expenses.”

For the safety of students and workers, the food pantry is extending service to Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visits, however, will be allowed by appointment only, and will not include physically shopping in the store. Instead, items will be collected and provided by pantry staff. Students can access the pantry once every two weeks.

Right now, Reed says, the top priority of INP is fundraising for the Student Emergency Relief Fund—SERF—which is available to all WMU students for urgent, emergency and unexpected costs. The scope of assistance has broadened in response to the pandemic. Requests that have not typically qualified for SERF in the past, such as rent and utility assistance, will now be considered.

“A student could have done everything right – planned for expenses, gotten an on- or off-campus job, budgeted, but COVID-19 changed all of that,” says Reed. “Thinking back to the intent of the fund, we felt that if students were in need with immediate, urgent, unexpected and/or emergency expenses, donors would want us to use that money to help.”

Information about donating to both SERF and the Invisible Need Project are available online. The programs are fully funded by the generosity of individual donors, from both campus and the community. While non-perishable food item donations are always welcome, monetary donations can often have a much larger impact.

“Through our partnerships with the South Michigan Food Bank, and Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes, your dollars go so much farther, and we are able to purchase food at a reduced cost—sometimes as low as 19 cents per pound!” Reed says. “That means the same $4 spent on a box of cereal from a local grocery store could get us up to 20 pounds of food with the food bank.”

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.