Students, community combat hunger and homelessness in Dayton

By: Allison Gauthier – Print Editor-in-Chief and Rachel Cain – News Editor

The St. Vincent de Paul homeless shelter stands out in sharp contrast to the world around it. The building itself is white-washed with blue and green trim, like a beacon in a barren fall landscape. Although it’s only a few hundred feet off Stuart Street, it does not reflect any of the University of Dayton’s red brick campus or the heavy traffic of Brown Street. The St. Vincent de Paul Gateway Shelter for Women and Families is in another world, and its staff and volunteers work to bridge the gap between bubble and reality.

St. Vincent de Paul is the largest 24/7 provider of shelter in Montgomery County. It boasts a full staff, trained in nonviolent crisis intervention and naloxone administration in the case of opiate overdose. The shelter includes lockers for guests to store their possessions, washers and dryers for laundry, a large dining area, food and donation drop-offs, and dorms for single women and families.

Rebecca DeLong, director of development, explained the services the shelter provides: “I think the thing that is so important about what we do is that we are providing our guests with a safe, stable environment that allows them to work on the issues that brought them here.”

Guests are able to use the shelter’s address as their home address when applying for jobs or on their identification. Case workers visit the shelter several times a week to work with people toward a goal of stable housing.

“The ultimate goal, with the housing programs is to try to get people on their own and independent,” said Hannah McGahee, marketing and communications development associate at St. Vincent de Paul.

The building is fenced in, with locked doors to the outside to protect victims of domestic abuse. Children can safely play outdoors or in an activity room inside, and Ohio laws mandate school buses stop at shelters to ensure children attend school every day. The women’s shelter and the Gettysburg Gateway for Men shelter serve a combined 1,200 meals a day.

In 2014, the two shelters provided 127,000 nights of shelter. The presence of children in shelter is up 42 percent from 2014, when St. Vincent de Paul sheltered 844 children.

“Students at the University of Dayton understand that there’s a homeless problem, but here at UD we’re in a bubble,” said Joseph Fay, junior history major and co-president of the St. Vincent de Paul charter at UD. “Unfortunately, there’s not much city funding to help out with the situation. The city does rely on organizations like Habitat for Humanity or St. Vincent de Paul to help.”

Students at the University of Dayton understand that there’s a homeless problem, but here at UD we’re in a bubble.

The charter, with 147 members, tries to volunteer every weekend, at the women or men’s gateway shelters or the food pantry. The group was recently approved to do home visits, in which they visit clients’ homes to see if they need help with services like furniture donations.

“Poverty is a vicious cycle,” Fay said. “As much as St. Vincent de Paul does help, there’s more that can be done to break that cycle…You realize that the only reason why I can help is because I have the privilege to do so.”

The other co-president of the charter, junior Jordan Stoltz, reflected on the memorable moments of her service. She’s been surprised by the amount of friendly people she met, and hopes that the people they serve feel they’re not alone.

“We don’t always know the situation of someone who is without a home or living on a tight budget—we don’t know the whole story. I believe that having a good heart toward all of humanity is important. After all, we’re all broken in one way or another,” Stoltz said. “We all want to feel loved. When we work together, wonderful things can happen. And that’s the beauty of it.”

Other UD students are also working to eliminate hunger in the Dayton area. Junior dietetics major Danielle Dicristofano started a UD charter of the Food Recovery Network.

According to its website, this program, which encourages students to recover dining hall food left over at the end of the night, is the “largest student movement against food waste and hunger in America.”

“Right now we’re only [working with] KU every Friday because KU’s the only dining hall that closes over the weekend,” Dicristofano said. “They’ll have more food that would go to waste because food goes bad over the weekend, and they can’t reuse it because they’re not open….We package up all the leftover food that they would have thrown out , and we bring it to St. Vincent de Paul. They use it to feed the people that stay at their shelter.”

McGahee loves the enthusiasm from the UD community.

“We’re always open to suggestions from the students. I love to hear ideas of how they can contribute, especially with different skill sets,” McGahee said. “Every little bit helps.”

The Center for Social Concern is also doing its part to raise consciousness about poverty in Dayton. Meaghan Crowley, a graduate assistant in the Center for Social Concern, is helping coordinate Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Month, which takes place in November.

“I think a lot of students know that homelessness and poverty and hunger are all problems that happen, but I think a lot of students don’t necessarily have a personal connection or a face to put to the statistics,” Crowley said. “Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Month works to put a face to the statistics, and bring personal stories of people to campus.”

“UD students might not be aware [that] Montgomery County has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in Ohio and even in the nation,” said senior Grace Sinopoli, who is on the planning committee for Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Month. “The Kroger on Wayne Avenue is actually the only grocery store in the city of Dayton.”

“Dayton is a classic definition of a food desert. There are many people who live either in downtown Dayton or near downtown Dayton who it takes 20-25 minutes to get to a grocery store,” Crowley agreed. “Many of those people don’t have a car, many of them don’t have access to bus fare or ways of getting to the grocery store that has healthy, affordable food. A lot of people are stuck going to a convenience store to get their food for the week.”

“We love when other organizations or universities are wanting to help bring that to the forefront, as far as what people are aware of, because a lot of folks do not realize what an epidemic this is in our community,” DeLong said.

“There’s plenty of issues in this world to be concerned about. As students we have tests, we have homework, we’ve got these stressors of what to do after graduation. But, the purpose of being a student is to learn and to grow and to become more aware of what’s going on around you,” Crowley said. “How are you supposed to know how your studies are going to fit into the grander, global scheme of things unless you go and stretch yourself and learn more about people who are different from you? Especially something like hunger and homelessness—in my mind, there’s maybe nothing more important than people [who] are hungry.”

To find out what the shelter kitchen needs, please click here. If you are interested in volunteering with St. Vincent de Paul, please click here.

Photo of the long grocery list some Dayton residents must pay for, the cost of living in a food desert, courtesy of St. Vincent de Paul – Dayton District Council.

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