By Leighah Beausoleil
While I was in foster care, I was given the opportunity to volunteer for a Backpack Program in North Carolina.
It was a program in which a group of individuals would get together once a week or so and fill backpacks with nonperishable food items and toiletries, such as toothbrushes and toothpaste.
My foster mother’s significant other helped run the program, and decided to take me and their daughter to help out.
We arrived one evening at the packing location and began to get to work filling the discrete black backpacks with all of the essentials for families in need.
The goal of the program was to provide food and toiletries to families that could not afford them on the weekends. Students would pick up the bags at school at the end of the day Fridays and return the bags the following Monday.
Little did I know that a year later, I would be one of the recipients of these bags.
At this point, I was back living with my family. We had found a nice trailer home in the next county over, but were still struggling financially.
I knew the importance of the Backpack Program and how it worked, and therefore, felt at ease when it was introduced at my new school and I was enrolled in it.
This was until that first Friday afternoon when I was called down to the principal’s office over the loudspeaker and forced to make the walk of shame back to my math class.
Instead of a black backpack, this school opted for plastic grocery bags.
Everyone could see and everyone knew that my family could not afford to buy all of our own groceries.
I recall coming up with lies and excuses to my classmates and students on the bus when they would ask about the bag.
“Oh, I just enrolled for the snacks,” I would say.
Then came the requests for me to share, and I had to awkwardly decline, which was difficult to do when I was trying to pretend my family did not actually need the contents of this plastic bag.
Food insecurity has always been a part of my life.
It was embarrassing.
It was shameful.
It was my life, and there was nothing I could do to change it.
Fast forward to my sophomore year of college. The world is in the middle of a global pandemic.
My grandparents are moving down South and with no other options, I spent my winter break on campus.
It was perfect.
I had just enough money to pay the additional housing fee and I felt hopeful I would be able to make it to the spring semester.
Except it wasn’t perfect because Framingham State does not provide dining for students who stay for year-round housing.
My only source of income at the time was my work study job as I had lost my job waitressing due to the pandemic. Therefore, I had hardly any money - meaning I was once again food insecure.
My advisor helped the best he could, bringing me groceries throughout the break.
Late into the evening, I would be reading a book at my desk and my phone would ping - he was there for another delivery.
Walking down to the front of Corinne Towers Hall, I would meet him and he would hand me the plastic grocery bags filled with food: cheese, bread, bagels, frozen entrées, and orange juice.
I was beyond grateful for his help and thanked him as often as I could, but I knew I would never be able to thank him enough for the kindness he showed me that winter break.
With the plastic bags in my hands, I would make my way back to my room.
Once again, the familiar feeling of shame would settle in and I would be reminded of that same powerlessness I felt as a kid.
It was a long and hard winter break, but it did not have to be that way.
There is so much the school could have done for me and people like me who stay on campus during the breaks.
Why not keep the Rams Resource Center open?
Obviously, the dining options do not have to be at the same level as when the semester is in full swing, but anything would have been better than nothing.
The University failed me.
The institution that prides itself on being student focused and aware of students' needs failed me when I needed it most.
I hope that in sharing my experience I can prompt the University to recommit itself to supporting students with food and housing insecurity.