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Students tackle food desert with food oasis

October 4, 2018

KOKOMO, Ind. — Feeding a family is a difficult task if you don’t have easy access to a grocery store.

A group of Indiana University Kokomo students did their part to solve the food desert problem on the north side of Kokomo, building and stocking what they’re calling a food oasis — a large wooden box filled with nonperishable food items, toiletries, diapers, and other items that are difficult to find when there aren’t grocery stores nearby.

The food oasis, placed near the Carver Community Center, is one of four projects completed by students in the environmental conservation class taught by Leda Casey, senior lecturer of geology. They will present their projects from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday, October 8, in the Hunt Hall Atrium.

Senior Mackenzie Burke said the oasis operates on the “take a penny, leave a penny,” concept, where those who are lacking food can take what they need, and those with a little extra can leave something to share.

“Some people can’t get to a food pantry because of their work hours, and others make just a little too much money to qualify for help from a pantry,” she said. “Others are just too embarrassed to tell someone they can’t feed their family. Some don’t have transportation to drive to a store.  And some people want to help, but don’t have time to volunteer at a food pantry.”

Josh Vogel noted that while they opened it fully stocked, the idea is that people in the neighborhood will be inspired to help one another. Until it gets off the ground, though, the students will stock it, and will have boxes in the Hunt Hall Atrium the week of October 8 to accept donations.

“It definitely puts some kind of responsibility on the community, to help donate,” he said. “I hope it builds a sense of community in the area, and hopefully it will stay stocked.”

They chose the neighborhood for their oasis because it qualifies as a food desert – an area without access to fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in imporverished areas. The recent closure of a northside grocery store exacerbated the problem, making convenience stores and gas stations the closest options.

Casey challenged the group to walk from the Carver Center to find someplace to shop, and see what kind of meal they could provide for a family of four on a budget.

“Sometimes, it’s important to walk in someone else’s shoes for a bit, to understand the true hardships of their situation, and learn the real value of one’s service,” she said. “I spoke with one of the students the other day, and he said it was truly an eye-opening experience. He couldn’t believe how far he had to walk, and how expensive it was to purchase food at a convenience store.”

Until the oasis is completely adopted by the neighborhood, the students plan to continue stocking it, not only with food, but with toiletries, school supplies, hats and mittens, diapers, and other needed items. Anyone is welcome to donate items to the oasis, which is open 24 hours a day.

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.

Last updated: 10/11/2018