Center Director Kathleen Gorman is under no illusions about the work that’s been done and the work still to do in fighting the ravages of hunger. “If you measure our success by ending hunger in America, I have failed miserably,” says Gorman. “Hunger as a whole is a problem that’s increasing. But that’s not the whole story.”
There was no hunger center at URI when Gorman, a professor of psychology, became a “staff of one” in a small office on the Providence campus in 2000, the result of a grant by the Feinstein Foundation. “We’ve been able to build a program that engages lots of students around the issue of hunger, and get out into the community,” she says. “It’s an incredibly important education that they don’t get in the classroom.”
The center is now located in Ranger Hall on the Kingston campus, and continues to maintain a small Providence office as well.
Grants have enabled the program to add two full-time staff members and two graduate students. In addition, 12-15 students are hired each semester to help those who are eligible to access the federal food stamp program, now known as SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The Hunger Center also has “literally dozens, if not hundreds of community partners,” Gorman says, ranging from food banks to non-profit groups to government human services organizations. “We’re an education center, training future leaders around the country,” she emphasizes.
E-mails to about a hundred URI graduates and current students, alerting them to the celebration, yielded an impressive response. Many said their experiences with the Hunger Center changed their lives. Gorman views the anniversary event as “a celebration and a testimony” to their achievements.
Chantelle Gonzalez, currently a senior and human development and family studies major, writes in the anniversary yearbook: “In simple words, [the Hunger Center] sends URI students like me to the real world every day. Sites, circumstances, and personalities always vary. And we have to think big, because that’s what helping people is all about.”
The Hunger Center is unique: though there are other colleges and universities that focus on policy or house “think tanks” relating to hunger, URI is the only institute of higher education in the country offering a program in which students can concentrate on – and even minor in — hunger studies.
The SNAP Outreach Project attempts to reach all who are eligible for federal assistance to adequately feed themselves and their families. According to research by the Hunger Center, there is a lack of understanding of eligibility requirements on the part of many potential recipients. In addition, among the elderly, feelings of embarrassment, a lack of information, and the perception of low benefits often prevail.
‘’We help people access the system,” Gorman says. ‘’We educate them, walk them through the process, connect them with resources. They’re able to get assistance because of the work that we do.”
Now, as the decade-mark approaches, the director looks back and says, “I never thought we could do this much when we first started. I feel very good about where we are.” She dreams of a future in which the programs and financial support might grow; for now, however, she is proud to mark 10 years of accomplishment.