Photo courtesy of Morgan State University

Morgan State University will address food insecurity by teaching students how to prepare meals and use coupons, and by making it easier to track shuttle services to grocery stores and farmers markets.

The university’s Food Resource Center developed the Food Resource and Expanded Shuttle for Healthy Living Year-round (FRESHLY) program, which recently won first place and a $25,000 grant through the Ford Motor Company’s “HBC-You Mobility Challenge.”

Melissa Thomas, the executive director of the Food Resource Center, said the university is “ecstatic” about the victory and the impact that the FRESHLY program will have on Morgan’s students.

“We are fully persuaded that we have ‘cracked the code’ on how to begin to abolish food insecurity in our student population. A major part of it, beyond just providing supplemental food, is to deliver other resources, teach new skills and offer new knowledge,” Thomas said.

The Food Resource Center had already begun developing courses on couponing, meal planning and meal preparation when Dr. Celeste Chavis, a professor of transportation and infrastructure at Morgan, forwarded information about the contest.

Ford designed the HBC-You Mobility Challenge to encourage historically Black colleges and universities to brainstorm ways of improving mobility in their communities, according to the automaker’s website.

“The quality of proposals we received from Historically Black Colleges and Universities for the Ford HBC-You Challenge from across the country was outstanding,” Pamela Alexander, director of community development for the Ford Motor Company Fund, said in a statement.  “Understanding smart mobility needs on their campuses and proposing well-crafted solutions that will make a real difference in people’s lives demonstrates the passion that students have for serving their communities.”

Thomas said the $25,000 that Morgan earned from the contest will pay for assorted costs of the FRESHLY program, including the development of a student-built app that will allow students to reserve a spot in the courses and track the routes of university shuttles to grocery stores and farmers markets — all while adhering to COVID-19 protocols.

A FRESHLY program student intern, led by Chavis, will work with Morgan’s School of Engineering, School of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences, and the university’s Office for Presidential Scholars to develop the app.

The Strategy Shop, a student-driven public relations firm under Morgan’s School of Global Journalism and Communications, will do the marketing and public relations of the new program.

The grant award will also pay for shuttle drivers, the instructor who will teach the courses, and incentives to help students with some of their grocery store costs, Thomas said.

In a 2018 survey of students, faculty, staff and administrators by Morgan’s Division of Student Affairs, 68 percent of the students who were surveyed said they were food insecure.

The survey also found that 71 percent of students reported skipping meals because they had a limited supply of food, and 67 percent said they borrowed food or money due to a lack of food.

While Morgan’s campus is currently closed during the coronavirus pandemic, with most students having been sent home, there are still about 350 to 400 students who remain on campus due to “extenuating circumstances,” Thomas said.

“Their needs are extreme and we are hoping that they as well as our local students will be able to directly benefit from the FRESHLY Program,” she said.

Kevin Banks, Vice President for Student Affairs at Morgan State University, said the grant from Ford will help the Food Resource Center combat hunger on campus and in the greater community.

“Resources are absolutely critical in our collective effort to assist those in our community facing extenuating circumstances—chief among them is food insecurity, which is a real issue even for students on college campuses,” Banks said in a statement. “We are extremely thankful to Ford for spearheading social responsibility programs that benefit and uplift communities.”

In addition to Ford’s efforts, Thomas added that the Food Resource Center is grateful for the support of Morgan’s students, alumni, volunteers, donors, President David Kwabena Wilson over the past two years since the center launched in November 2018, including “this incredibly disruptive era of COVID-19.”

Marcus Dieterle is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. He returned to Baltimore in 2020 after working as the deputy editor of the Cecil Whig newspaper in Elkton, Md. He can be reached at