At sunset on the first day of fall classes, a line of students stretched from the University Center Commons to the far side of the Crossroads Food Court, anticipating an evening of crafts, cookies and fun.
Campus Activities hosted Crafts & Crumbl Cookies on Aug. 22 from 7-9 p.m. inside the University Center’s Sunnen Lounge. This was just one of many events held during Welcome Week – a series of activities to celebrate new and returning students – during the first week of the semester.
The turnouts at this week’s events were bigger and more exciting than Director of Office of Student Engagement Jennifer Stewart and the staff at Campus Activities had anticipated. Student employees managing Crafts & Crumbl Cookies said they ran out of supplies within 30 minutes of the event’s start due to the unexpected crowd.
“It’s definitely been much more hectic than last year, which is good . . . little rough on our staff, but it benefits us most when everyone’s showing up,” sophomore student employee Tim Wilks said while supervising and enjoying the event with his co-workers. “We’re getting really high attendance [especially from freshmen]…hopefully it’s gonna boost this year.”
Tripp Antill – a freshman who came to the university from his hometown two hours away – said the activities helped him make friends and feel at home in his new environment.
“I found the coolest friend group, and I immediately was so welcomed in. This has felt like such [a] home for me, and I’ve met amazing people I would die for already. It just means so much to me that I can have this experience here,” Antill said.
Other students at Crafts & Crumbl Cookies agreed that the activities have helped create a positive first-week experience for them. Freshman Greyson Aube said he had met his group of friends through mingling, and freshman Harry Brooker said everyone he has met so far has been accepting and welcoming.
According to Stewart, staff at Campus Activities work through the summer to coordinate Welcome Week activities with the goal of helping students meet new people and familiarize themselves with the university.
Stewart said some activities return annually due to popularity, including the Tie Dye & Bubble Bus and Llama Petting Zoo. Other events – including Crafts & Crumbl Cookies and Breakfast with Vincent Van Doughnut on Aug. 23 – were added because the appeal of free food draws in more students and creates a more enriching experience.
“We know that food is always popular,” Stewart said. “We try to have food that will bring people in and provide unique items you might not have every day. Both [events] were fun new options we hadn’t used before, so it seemed like a good fit.”
Though free food helps attract students to social activities, it also acts as a vital resource for students throughout the rest of the semester. Anne Geraghty-Rather, a Legal Studies and Women, Gender and Sexualities Studies professor – points out the prevalence of food insecurity among college students.
“It is critical for universities to provide food resources for students and others in their communities,” Geraghty-Rathert said. “Studies before the pandemic suggested that about 30% of students face food scarcity issues at some point in their college education; since the pandemic, further research indicates that that number may be far higher now. College is difficult enough without students having to negotiate how and where to find food.”
Geraghty-Rathert identified two Webster Groves community programs available to Webster students and local residents needing food assistance throughout the semester.
The Emmanuel Episcopal Church, on the east side of Loretto Hall, provides free meals to those who need them in the Webster Groves and university communities. Additionally, the WILLOW Project – directed by Geraghty-Rathert – operates an on-campus food pantry in Room 329-1 in Webster Hall.
“[The food pantry] is all non-perishable food items, but the space is always open, and the light is on,” Geraghty-Rathert said. “Students and others should feel comfortable going in at any time and taking whatever food they need from the shelves. It is totally anonymous… there is no sign-up needed. In addition, people often also donate used clothes, books and hygiene products such as soap, toothpaste and shampoo. People may take anything they need in Room 329-1.”