How colleges are tackling food insecurity | Education

Rising commodity costs, soaring gas prices and a lack of rental assistance have made it difficult for students like Jennifer Rahall – a single mother juggling three kids, two jobs and classes in Massachusetts Bay Community College – to stay afloat.

But initiatives and resources on campus can help. As a MassBay Food Bursary recipient, for example, Rahall receives gift cards for local grocery stores, helping her put food on the table.

“I try to put what we really need first, mainly my children’s needs, and food comes first,” she says. “It was very stressful, but with this food scholarship, it took that part off my plate.”

Rahall isn’t alone in worrying about basic needs: 38% of two-year college students experienced food insecurity in fall 2020, along with 29% of four-year college students. The number is much higher among students of color, according to #RealCollegeSurvey from the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice published in March 2021.

The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic – furloughs, pay cuts and layoffs – along with recent high rates of inflation have worsened food insecurity in recent years, advocates say.

“We’re seeing students not going back to school, students choosing to go back to work,” says Rachel Sumekh, founder and CEO of Swipe Out Hunger, a national nonprofit that fights child hunger. students. “But if they knew their school had resources for them, we know it would be different.”

What is food insecurity?

Food insecurity, as measured by the Department of Agriculture, means that a household has “limited or uncertain access to adequate food.”

According to the Hope Center survey, students facing insecurity about basic needs like food or housing are more likely to report poor physical health, symptoms of depression and higher stress, which may affect student results.

“When this basic need isn’t met, it’s harder to stay awake, pay attention, and absorb knowledge,” says Jacki Dougherty, master’s student and graduate teaching assistant for SNAP Outreach at the Oregon State University. “We are unable to meet our other needs as we face hunger.”

In addition to students, food insecurity sometimes affects other people within the campus community, including faculty members and staff. For example, 26% of adjunct teachers said they struggled to access adequate food or had to reduce the amount of food they ate, according to a 2020 American Federation of Teachers report.

Ways colleges are tackling food insecurity


College pantries take different forms, with some dispensing fresh groceries to students and staff, while others focus on non-perishable items or frozen meals.

The University of North Carolina at Asheville hosts a weekly food distribution event on campus as part of its student-run food equity initiative. Most food is non-perishable – donated by Ingles Markets, a regional grocery chain – with produce from the campus garden available in season. Prior to COVID-19, the program also included community meals, workshops, and foraging education, which teaches students where food comes from and how to search for it in the wild.

“We don’t do means testing, so we don’t require people to prove anything to access food, because everyone needs food,” says Healthy Liaison Jordan Perry from the university campus. “Our thinking is that it helps to reduce some of the stigma. If it’s something available to everyone, then it’s not necessarily pointing the finger at people who (need) access to the food.”

At Saint Xavier University in Illinois, students, faculty, staff and their families can access non-perishable items, toiletries and feminine hygiene products at Champ’s Kitchen, an on-site food pantry. the campus. The program plans to eventually include healthier and more culturally inclusive meal options.

“Since implementing Champ’s Kitchen, we’ve seen students, staff, and faculty raise awareness about food insecurity,” says Josh Bogaski-Baugh, the university’s executive director of student success. “We’ve seen it on social media and in the classroom.”

Swipe Meal Donations

With limits on carryovers, many students with meal plans often end up with extra meals at the end of a semester or academic year. One option to avoid wasting meals is to donate them.

Swipe Out Hunger, for example, partners with hundreds of universities to provide students facing food insecurity with the benefits of unused meal plans. In addition to student donations, some colleges set aside a number of meals to distribute each year.

Community partnerships

Many colleges rely on local organizations to fund or donate to campus food programs.

MassBay, for example, recently partnered with Temple Beth Elohim, a Reform Jewish congregation in Wellesley, Massachusetts, to provide free home-cooked meals. Through the TBE Table program, volunteers prepare, freeze and deliver 120 meals to students every two weeks.

“For low-income students…or for adults who want to pursue an education, we’re not as generous a society as we’d like to think,” says David Podell, president of MassBay. “Food is pretty central to life. Without support for food, it’s hard to imagine students succeeding in college.”

SNAP support

For years, few college students qualified for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a federal resource that allows eligible individuals or families to purchase food each month at grocery stores or farmers’ markets. But the guidelines were changed under the Consolidated Credits Act in 2021 to allow college-eligible undergraduates or zero expected family contribution to enroll in SNAP.

To explain how to use SNAP and make the application process easier, schools like Oregon State have developed a SNAP peer-to-peer outreach program.

“We truly believe in the power of students helping students,” says Nicole Hindes, director of Oregon State’s Human Services Resource Center. “When a student helps another student with a SNAP app, it sometimes feels like your friend is helping you. This makes it more accessible and gives the impression that the stakes are lower. We see the power of relationships, connections and community.

How to fight the stigma of food insecurity

Students may be reluctant to seek help for fear of being judged, some observers say, due to a stigma associated with food insecurity.

But colleges can change the narrative by creating on-campus basic needs centers that include services like mental health support and child care, while making students feel less alone. For example, Sumekh suggests, the wording of a campus advertisement can be changed from “Are you hungry, come to this place” to “Last week, two out of three students came to the pantry for food. free food”.

“The best thing we can do to fight stigma is to change the culture on campus so that it’s representative” of all students, she adds. “Having more of these (basic needs) programs makes students feel like they’re entitled to ask for help.”

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