While going through the COVID-19 pandemic, officials at the University of Southern Mississippi noticed that a particular demographic on campus – international students – appear to be having the most financial hardship because of the virus.
In light of this, three organizations – the USM Association of Office Professionals, the Sigma Alpha Lambda Honor Society, and the USM Staff Council – have teamed up to launch the Blessings in a Backpack program. Through this initiative, members of the university and the community are encouraged to drop off donations of school supplies at selected sites; the backpacks will then be filled with supplies and delivered to international students.
“We saw that they were the most affected, in terms of food insecurity, as well as lack of money for spending,” said Jennifer Lewis, who is part of the three aforementioned organizations. “They can only work on campus, and all the countries they come from are basically countries that are very dependent on tourism.
“As a result, their parents are experiencing economic downturns and have not been able to help them as much as they usually would.”
The following items are required for the reader and will be accepted until August 20: notebooks, binders, blue books, bullet journals, highlighters, index cards, loose sheets, markers, pencils, pens, reusable masks, small dry-erase boards, files transparencies, umbrellas and wet wipes.
Collection boxes for these items can be found at Asbury Hall in Freshens, Cook Library in Starbucks, McLemore Hall in Career Services, Subway in the RC Union, and The Fresh Food Company. Backpacks will be delivered after the collection deadline.
“It’s a little slow so far because a lot of people aren’t on campus yet,” Lewis said. “People from the community have contacted me, so that’s what is driving things right now.
“We try to get their items before everything goes. Otherwise, as organizations, we’ll pull together all we can to make sure they have enough for what they need. ”
Despite the somewhat slow supply of donations, Lewis has already heard from students who are enthusiastic and grateful to benefit from the program.
“I met one of the students the other day in the parking lot on the way back from the lab, and he said ‘thank you very much’ so they’re pretty excited,” Lewis said. “I also brought in a doctoral student who told me the same thing and (to make sure) that her name was on the list.
“We have partnered up with the Wesley Foundation for (deliveries) and will likely contact them shortly for this. ”
Although this is the first time for “Blessings in a Backpack,” similar efforts have been held in the past, including “Homebake for the Holidays” for Thanksgiving and Christmas and a study kit in the spring.
“These were excellent,” Lewis said. “We had about 40 people for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and for Thanksgiving we were actually able to donate an entire meal to a group of students who were going to eat together.
“Then we distributed around 20 kits to students to prepare them for exams. ”
And because there is always a need somewhere on campus, Lewis and his peers are already eager to welcome more readers for the students.
“We have people who arrive quite late so they don’t have the time or the transportation to get there and take all the things and pack their backpacks,” Lewis said. “Some of them arrive at the start of the school year, so it will help them too. ”