PVAMU Opens Hilltop Reserve: A Student Resource for Food, Finances, and Fashion

Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) has opened the doors to Hilltop Reserve, an emergency resource center (ERC) designed to ease students’ financial worries when it comes to having access to food, clothing, and emergency funds.

Tondra Moore, Ph.D., Health Administrator and Executive Director of Health Services, said the idea of having an emergency resource program spawned from Vice President of Student Affairs Timothy Sams, Ph.D. after he attended a Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board conference that covered emergency aid programs on college campuses.

“Dr. Sams created a task force of individuals across the university to come up with ideas on how to bring an emergency aid program here to the university,” said Moore.

The task force ideas materialized in Hilltop Reserve, which includes the Hilltop Market, a food pantry, and the Hilltop Boutique, a clothing store. Meaquell Lewis, program coordinator, and a licensed social worker, said students face financial struggles at college campuses across the nation. Therefore, the ERC initiative was needed.

“There is a lot of food insecurity and a lack of clothing availability for students in need,” Lewis explained. “Even if they do have financial aid to cover tuition, it may not be enough to cover housing and dorm room essentials, such as comforters, clothing, and other types of things they need to be successful.”

The Hilltop Reserve offers keys to the doors of success: food, finances, and clothing.

“Our tag line is ‘Meeting Their Needs When They Need Us Most,'” Moore said. “That is what we are trying to do. We want students to be successful.”

Partnerships
Moore said they struck vital partnerships to achieve help.

“We already partner with the House of Help, which is a 501(c)3 in Waller County,” Moore stated. “They fill in the gaps for us with needs that we are not able to meet, such as medical care, financial resources for childcare, and financial resources in general. They also operate a food pantry if our students aren’t able to come to ours.”

For Hilltop Market, the Houston Food Bank (HFB) plays a pivotal part.

“We have a memorandum of understanding where we are part of their food exchange program. It’s food, and sometimes household goods, for students, so they don’t have to choose between paying tuition and paying for food,” said Moore.

As for Hilltop Boutique, those partnerships are more organic. Lewis said they receive donations from faculty, staff, and friends of the university. The two-room shopping experience is located on the lower level of the Owens Franklin Health Center and contains new or gently used clothing and shoes for men, women, and children and personal hygiene items.

Lewis said, based upon the feedback students have provided since it opened in August 2019, the Boutique is a hit. “Students have the minimum of what they need to look their best and feel their best and be able to focus in class as need be, and there is no limit to what they can take,” she added.

Meaquell Lewis, a program coordinator with the Hilltop Reserve, prepares clothing in the Hilltop Reserve Boutique, a place where students can shop for free clothing and personal hygiene items.

How to Apply
Any PVAMU student can take advantage of Hilltop Reserve services. For the Pantry, students will have to bring a photo ID, so their information can be put into the Houston Food Bank system. Lewis says it takes about a week for their membership to be activated. Once enrolled in the HFB system, students can shop twice a month and receive up to 60 pounds of free food per visit. Options include fresh fruit and vegetables, canned goods, and frozen food items.

“Outside of those two times a month, they are given a scholarship card with their ID number,” Lewis said. “They can go to any Food Bank in Houston or Waller [County], whichever one is closer for them, and get food. So, they still have access to get food outside of the Pantry.”

As for shopping at the Boutique, Lewis said students can sign up using their mobile phones.

“I created a link and QR Code, which is actually the registration form,” she explained. “It’s five questions asking them things like their name, classification, if they work, and what specifics they need.”

Funding Goals
Although the Hilltop Reserve is starting from ground zero when it comes to funding, Moore said they are accepting financial donations from outside sources and the university community, and she has some creative fundraising ideas planned out, starting during Homecoming 2019.

“The Panther Pride Drive during the week of Homecoming is when we really look to our alumni to show the students that they love them and support them by donating in forces to the Hilltop Reserve,” Moore said.

The next fundraiser in November is the Festival of Trees. “We will ask organizations across campus to purchase and decorate Christmas trees that will be displayed in the MSC (Willie A. Tempton Sr. Memorial Student Center),” Moore said. “Individuals can vote on their favorite tree by dropping coins in a jug.” According to Moore, the collected money will go back to Hilltop Reserve as donations for financial resources that can be used for students. “At the end of the Festival of Trees,” Moore continued, “all of the trees will be donated to families who cannot afford them.”

Moore said, in addition, there will be a fundraising gala in April 2020 targeting more substantial donations.

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For more information about Hilltop Reserve, click here, or click here to donate.