Like dozens of his fellow University of Georgia students, Kyle McReynolds used to worry about finding enough money for his next meal.
“You want to be engaged in class, engaged in studying, but all you can think about is how you’re going to pay for the next thing,” said McReynolds, a junior majoring in business management from Warner Robbins.
McReynolds and his classmates are now able to focus on their studies thanks to the Let All the Big Dawgs Eat Food Scholarship. The food scholarship and other programs that support students just got a big boost from University of Georgia graduate Jess Stokely, who is contributing $900,000 to the food scholarship and $1.5 million to general support for students.
Stokely’s $2.4 million donation is the largest one-time gift ever made to the university’s Division of Student Affairs.
Even with the competitive tuition rates at UGA, more students are finding it difficult to afford a college degree. More than 94 percent of UGA students receive financial aid, such as Pell Grants and the HOPE Scholarship. For some, there is still a gap to cover the full cost of attendance.
College student food insecurity-lacking reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious meals-is increasingly becoming a focus on major college campuses across the country. Food and financial insecurity can impede students in several ways-from financial strain and multiple loans, to time commitment and working multiple jobs, to nutrition quality and wellness.
The food scholarship initiative currently sponsors one-year meal plans in the university’s dining halls for 46 students with demonstrated need. That number will grow with additional scholarships being awarded next semester.
Thanks to the spacious new dining facilities on campus, many students choose to meet in the dining commons to study and work on projects.
“I’d stress about putting together the money to pay my way in, or most often, I’d just have to explain to my group that I couldn’t make it,” McReynolds said as he started to smile. “Nowadays, I’m spending a lot of time in the dining halls. … The food scholarship took all that stress away.”
Stokely earned his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from UGA in 1958, and was the first of his family to graduate from college. He says food insecurity is on his heart, which is illustrated by his leadership of a ministry at his church in Pearland, Texas, that has sent food to 54 countries.
“With my background in food management, I feel like I have a God-given mandate to feed all the people I can in my life,” Stokely said. “I received a scholarship when I attended Georgia, and that meant a great deal.”
His gift to the Student Affairs general fund will support initiatives that enhance the student/faculty relationship and provide assistance to students experiencing hardship, as well as several other student-support programs. And need-based financial aid is the No. 1 priority for UGA’s comprehensive capital campaign.
Stokely says he was “involved in everything” while he was a student and is a huge advocate for the co-curricular learning experience. “Being involved rounds you out,” he said. “You can gain so much from being in organizations. All it takes is a little time to invest in yourself.”