"Invisible Need" Students at WMU - Part 1

May 11, 2018

Bronze sculpture near WMU's Computing Center
Credit Andy Robins / WMUK-FM

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of t-shirts sold to support the Invisible Need Project.

During much of its academic year, Western Michigan University is home to over 20,000 students. Some of them don’t have enough money pay for their tuition, healthcare, and in some cases food. But the Invisible Need Project on campus is there to help.

Since 2014 the Invisible Need Project has provided hundreds of WMU students with food, assistance with healthcare, and help paying for their classes. Born after a hallway conversation between colleagues, the Invisible Need initiative gets its resources from donations and the sale of “Gold Game Day” T-shirts. Project director Shari Glaser says it builds community.

“That’s an opportunity to be able to offer something that’s affordable so students can help other students. Our other reason for wanting to do that was to help build a presence on campus of our school colors.”

WMU food pantry for students in need
Credit Amir Muhammad / WMUK-FM

The Invisible Need Project has three components: the food pantry; the student emergency relief fund, or SERF; and the Staufer Fund. The food pantry is a one-stop shop for students in need. The Staufer Fund helps students with medical bills at Sindecuse Health Center. But Glaser says the SERF program is a bit broader.

“Life gets in the way sometimes. Sometimes something happens so your financial aid package doesn’t cover it, and maybe your family can’t help you, and you need money to stay in school. That’s what the Student Emergency Relief Fund is intended to do: to help, not finance tuition and fees but those other things, those bumps in the road that get in the way of you being able to continue with your college education.”

When the Invisible Need Project started, it was given two years as a trial period. Near the end of the second year, Glaser says the project began gathering statistics that showed just how important it is.

“What we found was that the average GPA of food pantry users was 3.0. And what we were able to determine was that a student who uses the food pantry more frequently through the academic year has a higher GPA, stays as a full-time student, and moves their program more frequently than the student who only uses it one or twice.”

One of those students is Western senior Diana Campbell. After transferring to Western last year, Campbell had to live off of her financial aid refund checks. That meant she had to rely on the food pantry and SERF to help her stay in school.

"Earlier in the semester I was just way behind on my phone bill. I had lost my phone. I’d gone several months without a phone and I needed to get my phone back up and working. That’s when I spoke to Sue down over at the pantry and she had me sign up for SERF. It helped me catch up on everything I was behind on with my phone bill.”

The Invisible Need Project has helped over a thousand WMU students who are in need by raising over $100,000 and selling more than 11,000 t-shirts. You can donate to the project at its website or by calling (269) 387-4742.

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