Billikens Share Their Bounty Through New Campus Food Resource
Their mission is simple: No student will go hungry at Saint Louis University.
Of all the issues college students face – stress, homesickness and figuring out the best way to juggle school work and a social life – where a student finds his or her next meal doesn’t always spring to mind. By spearheading and organizing SLU’s first student food resource, Billiken Bounty, senior Samantha Kiss, senior Madalyn Leakey and Mona Hicks, Ed.D., dean of students, aim to ensure all SLU students have access to the nutritious food they need to not only survive, but to thrive.
“I always say that food isn’t a difficult cause to get behind,” Kiss said. “But I didn’t want it to be a thrown-together project – I wanted it to be a place of dignity. Just seeing a friendly face of a peer at a food resource may make a difference.”
About 20 percent of SLU’s student body is at risk for food insecurity at some point in a college career, according to a survey Billiken Bounty’s organizers sent out to the campus during their planning process. The survey’s results also showed that some students experienced whole days without meals or rationing to make their food supplies and meals stretch further. The research tracks with national trends, the organizers explained. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently profiled the issue of food insecurity on college campuses.
In addition to conducting their research at SLU, Leakey and Kiss, Billiken Bounty’s co-chairs, also learned from other model food resource centers at Indiana University-Purdue University Indiana (IUPUI) before setting up SLU’s food resource.
Since opening in September 2018, Billiken Bounty has been serving up nonperishable food items like beans and macaroni as well as hygiene and self-care products in a retail-like space in Room 311 of the Busch Student Center. The resource center operates Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Shoppers don’t have to demonstrate need and can come and go anonymously because food insecurity can be momentary or long-term, organizers said. All that is required to access Billiken Bounty’s stores is a SLU photo ID.
“If you’re hungry, you’re not learning,” Hicks said. “Our mission ultimately is to give people access to food but also to resources while they keep their dignity.”
Kiss, an economics and political science major, was familiar with student food issues after going to high school in high-poverty area, she said. Following a course with SLU assistant professor Gretchen Arnold, Ph.D., she expanded her initial research into a proposal that she took to Hicks.
“We could do anything we wanted for a final project,” Kiss recalled of Arnold’s class, “The Structure of Poverty,” “but she really encouraged us to start something new – something physical, a movement, an initiative. I thought this might be something hard to sell because it requires physical space, money and assets. But I didn’t have to sell it at all. SLU has been fully supportive.”
After Kiss began researching campus food security issues, she brought in Leakey, her roommate to help Billiken Bounty “come to life.” Leakey had become interested in food insecurity as part of her coursework in the Department of Civil Engineering at Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology, and through her volunteer work with SLU’s Campus Kitchen.
If you’re hungry, you’re not learning. Our mission ultimately is to give people access to food but also to resources while they keep their dignity.”Mona Hicks, Ed.D., dean of students
Leakey focused on ensuring that Billiken Bounty would be sustainable and would be available for generations of students to come.
“It’s nice that we can serve a community that’s close and with Billiken Bounty, we can’t be closer to our community of SLU students, our friends and peers,” Leakey said. “Everybody I have come across is so passionate about helping our students and improving our SLU community in any way possible.”
The SLU community has rallied to the cause, organizers said, contributing volunteer hours as well as items for the food resource center’s shelves. A drive through Billiken Backers yielded $5,500, topping the drive’s goal of 5,000. Whole divisions and departments have hosted additional food drives, including the Department of Public Safety, which now sponsors a shelf. Billiken Bounty was one of the causes earmarked for donations from SLU’s second annual SLU Giving Day on Friday, Nov. 16. About 20 students have volunteered their time to staff the resource center, welcoming their fellow Billikens to browse, taking inventory and stocking shelves.
“This campus community doesn’t mess around,” Hicks explained. “Once you create a path to what’s right, they do what’s right.”
Billiken Bounty is open Mondays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesdays, noon to 6 p.m., and Fridays, noon to 6 p.m.
Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers nearly 13,000 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place.
Story by Amelia Flood, University Marketing and Communications