Marja Berry, an Oxford resident, has been helping around 80 Miami University students with food insecurities right out of her garage for the past month through her program called Army of Kindness.
In the program, Berry fills boxes with food and toiletries. She uses volunteers, many who are students themselves, to distribute the boxes to students who are in need.
Funding for the program comes from Berry’s own stimulus checks as well as donations from parents.
Berry has been providing assistance for individuals with food insecurities for around two years. She eventually plans to open up a non-profit food pantry in Oxford.
In addition to assisting the student body at Miami, Berry also helps senior citizens in Franklin about 40 minutes away from Oxford by car. Around 11 a.m. every Wednesday, Berry drives to Franklin and brings food to around 60 seniors living only off their Social Security income.
A month ago, after having extra supplies from her trips to Franklin, Berry posted on a Facebook page for parents of Miami students, asking if their children need any assistance for nutrition and toiletries. She has also posted in another Facebook group, Oxford Talk, a group dedicated to all Oxford residents.
She received several messages from parents and students saying they needed help, which inspired Berry to start the program.
“College students are suffering like everyone else,” Berry said.
Berry helps both undergraduate and graduate students at Miami.
Her program is called Army of Kindness, as she comes from a military family – her husband served in the army – and because kindness can make the world a better place, Berry said.
Berry said students can make an appointment to come pick up whatever they may need
“There is a stigma [around] being food insecure,” Berry said. “Kids are cruel, and I do not want any of my students to be put in a situation where they have to feel shame. [My program] is made to fit an individual’s needs. They are able to pick what they want. I also provide curbside delivery to those who can’t transport to my house.”
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Each week since starting this service, Berry asks for volunteers to help distribute food and toiletries to Miami students by car or in her garage.
She has several volunteers that are fraternity and sorority members at Miami along with some of the non-Greek life student body. Some of the students that receive nutrition and toiletries also pay Berry back by volunteering. Her own daughters, Angela and Kiara, also help her.
Mike Croy, a junior nursing major at Miami and service chair of the Beta Theta Pi (Beta) fraternity, volunteers for Berry in his free time.
“I am passionate about service,” Croy said. “I am looking for as many service opportunities as I can, but it is slim pickings now because of COVID.”
As service chair for his fraternity, Croy is always searching for local volunteering options for his fraternity members, who have a 10-hour minimum service hour requirement each semester. The Interfraternity Council, the organization that oversees fraternities, only requires 2 hours of service.
Croy said he personally tends to complete around 20 hours of service each semester.
Simin Rajwany, a junior biology major at Miami and avid volunteer, has volunteered once for Berry, and hopes to continue in the future. She heard about the program from her mother through the Facebook post.
“Volunteering is something that I love to do and am passionate about,” Rajwany said.
As Rajwany did not have her own car, she said Berry may be a little more hesitant to reach out to her for assistance again. However, Rajwany hopes Berry will ask her for more help to continue to help the Miami community.
“This kind of program is important [for Miami students] because nobody is talking about our fellow students whose parents are going through a hard time and can’t provide what they would like to for their children,” Rajwany said. “She can’t do this by herself, so it is nice that fellow students are helping her out whenever they can.”
While volunteering for Berry, Rajwany helped organize, stack and move boxes. She also helped deliver a box to a student on campus. Croy, along with around 10 other fraternity members, organized and sorted Berry’s garage and picked up two refrigerators to keep perishables in.
“There is a stereotype that Miami is rich … however, that is not true,” Croy said. “Some students are struggling financially, and helping to support these students is important.
Assistance is open for all undergraduate and graduate students. Students who are in need of Berry’s assistance can reach out to her on her cell at (818) 434-9316.