Willamette’s SOAR Center, or Students Organizing for Access to Resources Center, will be in a new location in fall of 2019. This move marks a long-awaited shift as the needs of the Center have evolved. The new location will be the old Women’s Resource Center, on the third floor of the Putnam University Center, and the adjacent storage space. As a space for resources for Willamette students, the SOAR Center was created to support low-income students or those experiencing financial hardships. It is comprised of three different resources: the Bearcat Pantry, the Clothing Share and the First-Generation Book Drive, established in 2017, 2018 and 2014, respectively.
The Bearcat Pantry is dedicated to addressing food insecurity and helping Willamette students affected by it. Student coordinators and volunteers stock the pantry with perishable and non-perishable goods, ranging from fruits and vegetables to hygiene supplies. Additionally, they source organic and locally-sourced food through partnerships with Salem Harvest, LifeSource Natural Foods and Marion Polk Food Share.
Tova Hershman (‘19), the lead coordinator for the the Bearcat Pantry, said that the Pantry “also serves meals through a program called Bearcat Bites, in which we provide already cooked meals that have been repackaged from the Alpha Chi [Omega] sorority house.”
The Clothing Share is a program that provides clothing for jobs, internships and other events where one might need professional attire. It is organized by La Chispa de Salem (the Salem Spark) which is a multidisciplinary coalition made of Willamette students that is focused on environmental justice. The Clothing Share offers blouses, shirts, skirts, pants, suits, ties, jewelry, shoes and bags for Willamette students from all three schools as well as Willamette Academy as a part of the professional attire. It also provides regalia for Commencement.
In the future, coordinators hope to offer a larger variety of clothing for all types of people. Claire Pockell-Wilson (‘20), one of the Clothing Share co-coordinators, elaborated by saying, “We have been working with the Gender Resource Advocacy Center (GRAC) to create ‘go bags’ for individuals who may need to leave a dangerous situation quickly due to violence or assault. Additionally, we would like to provide resources like binders for transitioning individuals, as well as more casual clothing for them to experiment with styles without having to invest time and money in that endeavor.”
The third group within the SOAR Center, the First-Generation Book Drive, is a resource offered to first-generation students who need textbooks. As one of the programs supported by the Office of Multicultural Affairs, its goal is to help relieve some of the stress involved in buying textbooks, and assist students in their classes. The First-Generation Drive also provides school supplies and lab materials.
This shift in location is a big step for SOAR, as the Center is currently in Shepard House, an unoccupied dorm. Shepard’s current construction has no heating or running water, which makes it difficult for volunteers to comfortably staff their shifts. In the fall, it is being converted to temporary housing for Claremont School of Theology students.
The coordinator of the Clothing Share, Michelle Hicks (‘20), said that coordinators also made the big decision to move because, the SOAR Center was rapidly outgrowing its current space. “So this new location offers opportunities for expansion and growth in programming,” she said.
This increase in space is a step in the right direction for the SOAR Center’s expansion. Hershman added, “We aim to eliminate the barriers students face in accessing these basic resources, and firmly believe that access to these resources is a basic human right, not a privilege.”
Coordinators have plans for furthering this vision.
“We hope to expand the closet to be more friendly to trans/queer folx by providing chest binders and an array of regular clothes because if folx are in the process of transitioning they might not have clothes that necessarily match their identity,” said Hicks. “We also would like to study the realities of homelessness experienced by students because we know this is an issue at Willamette; however, the scope is undefined, which is the first step to expanding resources.”
As an organization maintained by committed students and staff and faculty advisers, the SOAR Center is working to support the Willamette community by providing equitable access to food, clothing and scholarly resources.
If you’re a student interested in helping the SOAR center achieve its goals, you can volunteer by emailing <soar-center> and spread the word about its resources. Pockell-Wilson added that students can also help by “Reducing stigma surrounding needing assistance for access to food and clothing. Everyone needs help sometimes! Follow us on Facebook @SOARCenterWU and share any events and resources we talk about.”
Photo:Shepard House, an unoccupied dorm, is the current location of the SOAR Center, which will be relocated in the fall.