The Bearcats Pantry and Resource Center: The key to one student’s success

When Will Smith, MD ’24, entered the UC College of Medicine three years ago, he had almost everything he needed to be successful. An Ohioan whose parents immigrated to the United States from Liberia in the 1970s, he had a reverence for education that was instilled by his father. He was further propelled by discipline, a keen intellect, and a lifelong desire to become a family-practice doctor. But even with these qualities — along with a degree from the University of Notre Dame — Smith still needed a little help.

Will Smith, MD '24 standing in front of the CARE/Crawley Building

Will Smith, MD '24. Photo/UC Foundation.

"I certainly didn’t do it alone,” he says. “I needed the support of family and friends and of programs like the Bearcats Pantry and Resource Center.”

Medical school proved to be more expensive than Smith had anticipated, and he struggled to stretch out his loans over the semesters and summer breaks. As a full-time medical student it was impossible for Smith to secure regular employment. “It was an uphill battle, especially the first couple of years, trying to pay all my bills, trying to pay for materials and supplies that we need, like stethoscopes,” Smith says. “It required a lot of hustling. I was a food delivery driver and whenever I had a down period during the week, I’d deliver meals around Clifton for extra money.”

In a pivotal moment, Smith opened up about his challenges to a friend who had used the Bearcats Pantry while in college and encouraged Smith to investigate doing the same. In short order, the Bearcats Pantry was proving invaluable, as Smith was able to acquire household staples — including pasta, oatmeal, dish soap, and personal care.  

To the UC donors who give to the Bearcats Pantry, Smith says, “Thank you for your empathy, for your compassion. You are helping to build my dreams and goals, and your support doesn’t go unnoticed. It is foundational for the future of the university.”

Smith is one of more than a thousand students who visited the Bearcats Pantry and Resource Center during the 2022-23 academic year. The three centers are accessible to every UC student via locations at the Clifton, Clermont and Blue Ash campuses. In addition to providing students with free fresh, shelf-stable food, hygiene items and household goods, the Bearcats Pantry offers meal vouchers that can be used at campus dining halls. Students can also receive To-Go Bags, which can be conveniently picked up at locations across campus.

Thank you for your empathy, for your compassion. You are helping to build my dreams and goals, and your support doesn’t go unnoticed. It is foundational for the future of the university.

Will Smith, MD '24

Other programs under the Bearcats Pantry banner are the Career Closet, which provides students with professional clothing; Bearcats Pantry Connections, which introduces students to other campus and community resources; and the Family First Program, which provides diapers and other childcare items to students who have young children. Smith is currently a volunteer at Family First, where he is helping with marketing and distribution logistics.

The Bearcats Pantry, Smith says, has contributed to his success in medical school and his dream of becoming a family physician who listens to his patients, advocates for them, and helps empower them to take control of their health. “Without resources like this,” he says, “a lot more people wouldn’t be able to handle the rigorous coursework, stay enrolled and make their dreams come true.”

Smith says that students whose families have limited financial means — a group he identifies with — do not have the same college experience as students with more privileged backgrounds. “We work longer hours on top of our classes to earn enough money for bills and hesitate to ask our families for money in a pinch,” he says. 

Featured image at top: Will Smith, MD '24. Photo/UC Foundation.

To meet the needs of UC students, the Bearcats Pantry and Resource Center relies on generous support from donors. You can lend your support today and help students like Smith.

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