By Naidelly Coelho
The Rams Resource Center (RRC) received a grant of $96,042.00 from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) in January.
Coordinator of Student Support & Advocacy Sarah Ripton said the grant is being used to fund Internship opportunities for students and to refurnish the center.
The RRC had its first open house of the semester Oct. 3. New features at the RRC, including posters, furniture, and brochures, are designed to make the center more welcoming, according to Ripton.
The RRC provides non-perishable food items and toiletries, and offers referrals to regional community organizations for FSU students, faculty, and staff, according to Framingham State’s website.
The RRC is located next to the stairs of West Hall facing the Maynard Parking Lot.
Ripton said she applied for the ARPA grant in October 2022 and received it in January 2023. The grant was largely in response to the “ever-declining retention rates among BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] students throughout the state of Massachusetts and the nation - which was only sped up as a result of the pandemic.”
“A large part [of the money was used] to mitigate issues of unmet need during the summer and over breaks when dining services are closed. We supplied food and housing for the summer and school year breaks for over 10 students facing basic needs and insecurities,” she said.
With this grant, RRC was able to offer two internship positions to BIPOC students and learn about the networks and systems that support basic need insecurity throughout the MetroWest region, she said.
“One of the things I wanted to do with some of the grant money that I received last year from the ARPA funding was to offer non-stigmatized basic needs to students, where they felt like they mattered because they do,” Ripton said.
She said “revamping” the center would attract more students to visit the center more frequently because the space would make them feel more welcome there.
Ripton said all the new furniture was bought and donated from Facebook Marketplace.
She said this can be a “lesson” to students that after leaving campus housing, it is not difficult to furnish a house because there are many places where they can get furniture for little to no cost.
“You don't need to spend any money to furnish. … It's trying to make that knowledge available to everyone in our community because not everyone knows that. Down the street, we have a store, which is Habitat for Humanity, and they will give us a lot of stuff for very, very cheap. So it's about using our community for what we offer,” Ripton said.
The RRC has many partnerships with regional institutions and resources to provide students, staff, and faculty with hygiene products, toiletries, and food, she said.
Ripton said Circle of Hope provides the center with soap, shampoo, deodorant, sheets, towels, and menstrual products.
Circle of Hope’s mission is to provide infants, children, and adults experiencing homelessness in Boston and MetroWest with clothing and necessities in order to preserve and enhance overall health and personal dignity, according to the organization’s website.
The RRC has a food pantry from which students, faculty, and staff can take any goods they need. All food provided is easy to prepare. All goods are purchased from Stop & Shop, she said.
“We have a standing purchase order - I'm the one that goes to the store and does all the shopping for it,” Ripton said.
The RRC also offers clothes and makeup, she said.
“Makeup is a new addition as well as jewelry. Just because, if you need that to access society at its highest level, then it's a basic need because you should be able to access as much wealth, possibility, and opportunity as anyone else. And so creating that space was a big thing - it's been very popular,” Ripton added.
Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Meg Nowak Borrego said over 85% of FSU students are Pell Grant-eligible, meaning they and their families demonstrate “exceptional financial need.”
According to the Federal Student Aid website, federal Pell Grants award students who are pursuing a bachelor’s degree with financial aid that does not require repayment.
According to a state-wide survey conducted by Hunger Free Campus, “37% of public university students in Massachusetts are food insecure.
“Because of historic and contemporary divestment and discrimination, Black, Latinx, and LGBTQ+ students disproportionately experience food insecurity - at rates of 52%, 47%, and 46%, respectively. Student parents also experience higher rates of food insecurity at 53%,” according to the Hunger-Free Campus website.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education website, BIPOC students suffer from food insecurity more often than students from other backgrounds.
Of students who suffer food insecurity, only 20% use resources such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), according to the Hunger-Free Campus website.
According to the Food and Nutrition website, students who are enrolled in a meal plan do not qualify for SNAP.
This semester, visits to the Rams Resource Center have increased. Ripton said by October 31, 2022, 94 clients had visited the center.
The RRC has seen 218 clients since the beginning of this semester - a 34% increase over last year, she said.
Ripton said, “Summer ’23 was the first year the RRC was open on a schedule. It offered food and resources that all of the students living on campus during the summer had access to.”
The RRC Fall hours are Monday from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.; Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; and Wednesday from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The RRC also provides after-hours availability to students who might have a job or another outside responsibility during regular hours of operation, Ripton said.
“I always do my absolute best to accommodate the hard-working FSU students looking to access resources or any of our assistance programs outside of normal business hours on a case-by-case basis,” she said.
The RRC is closed if the University is closed due to inclement weather or the recognition of holidays.
Anyone can donate. Donation bins are located on campus in the Dean of Students Office, the Game Room, the Snack Bar, the Veterans Services Center, and the Independent Association of Framingham State Alumni House (42 Adams Road), according to the FSU website.
Shania Chatelain`23 said due to her dietary restrictions, the RRC has been helpful when providing food to her.
She said the RRC provides frozen food. “I have a microwave and fridge on campus so it makes it easier to grab meals.”
Chatelain encourages students to use the RRC as a resource. “I tell students, ‘Hey, if you need Lysol wipes - just basically anything like utensils, just stop by like the Rams Resource Center and they practically have all that you're looking for.’ They're just wonderful people and staff.”
She added the services the RRC provides should be better known across the community.
Rams Resource Center Student Intern Angela Mentor-Vilgrain said her responsibility is to help students shop and advise on their needs.
“The Rams Resource Center isn't your only resource - there are other things outside of this that could help you,” she said.
She added she also sponsors events and tables in conjunction with resources such as
South Middlesex Opportunity Council (SMOC), Women, Infants, & Children Nutrition Program (WIC), and Circle of Hope.
Mentor-Vilgrain said another part of her job is social media content creation. She has created a new Instagram for the center in order to increase its popularity. Students can access the RRC Instagram @rrc_fsu.
Framingham State offers additional resources for students, such as crisis assistance, an emergency meal bank, housing and food assistance, a task force for supporting students with food and housing needs, and financial assistance options, according to the FSU website.
For more information about those resources, visit framingham.edu/student-resources or reach out to the Dean of Students’ office at (508) 626-4596.