Otterbein’s Promise House Working to Continue Serving Students

Posted Mar 26, 2020

*Note: Photo at right taken in 2018.

As the harsh realities of the global health crisis continue to ripple outward, Otterbein is working hard to ensure that its Promise House, a resource center for students that includes a food pantry, remains open.  

“Otterbein has a long-standing commitment of caring for its community. It’s who we are. It’s what we do,” said Melissa Gilbert, Otterbein’s associate dean of experiential learning and director of the Center for Community Engagement. “Students rely on the Promise House. As businesses close temporarily due to the state mandated health precautions, we’re learning about students who are losing their jobs. They’re worried. Supporting one another is why students created the Promise House and why we’re stepping up our efforts now.” Gilbert said.  

On average, the Promise House has more than 600 student members a year. Of that number, there are approximately 75 student volunteers and 150 students who do a “full grocery shop” on a regular, weekly basis. Gilbert says that in spring of 2019, they discovered that approximately 18% of Otterbein commuter students reported being food insecure.

As economic realities and state mandates affect students and their families, Gilbert said that there are two challenges they’re working to address to keep the Promise House open: emergency temporary staffing and a consistent flow of donations. 

Otterbein staff and students are working to reconfigure how to provide services since most of their regular student volunteers have moved off campus. “We’re working on a new volunteer schedule,” said Jaymi Green, Otterbein Promise House AmeriCorps VISTA. “We’re training volunteers to implement new emergency health and safety protocols for food collection and distribution.” 

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Gilbert said the best way to help right now is to make a cash donation to the Promise House. Staff volunteers can utilize those donations to re-stock the most pressing pantry needs. “The extra financial help is important right now,” Gilbert said. “Some of our reliable streams of support are temporarily suspended with closures and health mandates.” Since its launch, Promise House services have been provided almost entirely through donations and partnerships forged by the staff and students.  

Jenny McFarland, an Otterbein senior, said that finding ways to maintain the Promise House family atmosphere is important — especially now. “The Promise House has been a place where students feel safe,” McFarland said. “Posting photos of the Promise House and one another — it’s part of keeping us connected.” Students are making cooking videos to share with one another and they’re posting news of their accomplishments online until they can be together again. Staff members are also posting recipes developed by students that use ingredients that are commonly available in the pantry. This week’s offerings included taco soup, a homestyle meal, and chicken pot pie penne. Students are mindful of sharing recipes that can be completely prepared with only a microwave.  

Much as families and friends are rallying to look out for one another, Gilbert said she’s confident the Otterbein community will do the same. “We have to be relentless in our efforts to sustain human dignity for our students. It’s never been as evident. The connections we share — as caring and compassionate people–need to remain a priority.” She said the Promise House is also making sure that students are connected to local churches, food pantries and other community resource centers. 

To make a cash donation to Otterbein’s Promise House, go to: Click “Give Now” and under designation, Select “Other” for your gift choice and then designate, “PROMISE HOUSE.” 

To learn more about the Promise House, its services and how to help support it now and in the future, contact Otterbein’s Center for Community Engagement at