The fight against student food insecurity

By on April 19, 2021 0

While most Americans will be grateful for the second and third help on Thanksgiving, there is a surprising group that struggles to find first aid every day: students at some of the top universities in the country.

“I can’t go to the grocery store to buy breakfast because if I use that money I won’t be able to use it for anything else like dinner or lunch,” said Damian Hernandez, 24. , a graduate of Columbia University. earlier this year.

Hernandez, from Chicago, was among thousands of students considered food insecure, which means they don’t always know where their next meal is coming from, or if it comes at all. With the high cost of tuition, living and meals, food insecurity on college campuses poses a real threat to the livelihoods of students, especially those with low income and no access. government assistance programs.

Temple University researchers surveyed 86,000 students from more than 100 institutions, mostly public universities and community colleges, and 17% said they were homeless in the past year, while 45% said they were homeless in the past year. reported being food insecure in the past 30 days.

“This is to shed light on the extent of the problem that many college leaders or university administrators don’t really know,” said Vanessa Coca, study co-author and deputy director. of research at the Hope Center. for College, Community and Justice at Temple University. “They may know a few exceptions, but they think of exceptions, don’t they?”

According to data from the Alliance of College and University Food Banks (CUFA), 30 percent of college students are food insecure.

Shelves inside the UC Berkeley pantry.Reniel Del Rosario

College meal plans for students are often too expensive for low-income students. At Columbia, a meal plan for freshmen must be prepaid. That’s $ 2,802 per semester, $ 11.40 per meal – about $ 34 per day. Students who can’t afford a meal plan visit Columbia’s Pantry, which opened just over two years ago.

“I know I have this as a security blanket,” Hernandez said. “If I ever need food, I don’t have to worry about where I’m going to find it next week or what I’m going to do to feed myself.”

At the University of California at Berkeley, students line up for up to an hour before their pantry opens. The pantry serves around 1,000 students per week, including Reniel Del Rosario, 22, who has used the pantry for the past four years.

“After a while, going to a 99-cent store or dollar store for groceries wasn’t ideal,” said Del Rosario, who is from Vallejo, Calif. And graduated in 2019. “Being able to get fresh produce and more nutritious products has helped me a lot.”

This pantry serves fresh produce from local farmers’ markets free of charge for students, providing a healthy alternative to instant ramen and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Produce stand inside the UC Berkeley pantry.Reniel Del Rosario

As a full-time student while working over 20 hours a week at his co-op job, Del Rosario often faced a trade-off between spending his money on food and other necessities. He budgeted a total of $ 50 per week on groceries.

“I feel like I must have been hungry,” he said, and sometimes “I had to limit myself to the amount of food for the week because I had to save money for other things.” Most of these other costs were spent on classroom materials and paying rent at Berkeley, one of the most expensive metropolitan areas in the country.

Although his budget didn’t deter him from spending time with friends, he often chose to accompany them to lunch without buying anything – “because it would be $ 5 for a boba drink or $ 10 for lunch.” That’s already a fifth of my grocery budget. ! “

Berkeley has about 30,000 undergraduate students, 65% of whom receive financial aid. Del Rosario said the pantry is not being used to its full capacity because many students feel embarrassed that they need help.

“We are trying to reduce the stigma. There is nothing wrong with getting help, with getting help, ”he said. “We are all human beings and food is a basic need.”

As pantries on college campuses begin to fix the problem, the report’s authors said college administrators should be doing more – like letting students know if they’re eligible for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits. (SNAP), available to millions of low-income people. income individuals, also known as food stamps.

Some lawmakers have responded with legislation to help ensure the basic needs of college students are met so they can focus on their studies. For example, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill last summer to make it easier for low-income students to access CalFresh, the state’s food aid program. For the first time in 2020, the federal government will collect nationally representative data on the characteristics of post-secondary students instead of relying on individual studies.

However, Congress has not taken a decision on the 2019 college student hunger bill, introduced in July. The bill would allow more students to participate in SNAP, among other benefits.

At Southern Connecticut State University, surveys conducted in recent years have shown that about 30 percent of the 10,000 student population fall under the category of food insecure. The school is currently in the process of setting up its own pantry.

“There is a definite need for this,” said Sarah Rogers, who works with AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service to America) and has been hired by SCSU to lead the on-campus pantry building efforts. “Students who worried about hunger, homelessness, medical bills and life struggled in class and struggled to finish.

While the location of the pantry is defined, the next step in the process is to organize a fundraiser to bring in food and resources. Once the pantry is full and ready, the students will take care of all operations. Rogers hopes the presence of the pantry, which is slated to open in January, will make students feel more comfortable asking for help.

Hernandez was one of those students who initially hesitated to ask for help. He won a scholarship to study at Columbia after transferring from a community college. “I’m already lucky and privileged to get a scholarship that allows me to come here, but I shouldn’t ask for more,” he recalls thinking. “I should be able to get my own food.”

The tuition fee alone for undergraduates at Columbia University is $ 58,920 per year, not including accommodation, books, transportation, or food. Hernandez’s scholarship was not enough to cover the cost of living in New York City.

But the pantry saved her from accumulating even more student debt. “I have already taken out enough loans to help me pay my rent,” he said. “Fortunately, that prevents me from taking more loans.”

UCFA reports that more than 640 schools across the country, from community colleges to Ivy League universities, have on-campus pantries. In Columbia and Berkeley, any student with a school ID card is welcome in the pantry and encouraged to take a variety of food items free of charge.

Hernandez and Del Rosario have spent years volunteering in their respective pantries to help other students facing similar circumstances. “I wanted to be one of those people who tries to make these differences on campus,” Hernandez said. “I don’t know if I’m doing enough, but I’m trying to do my best to help other food insecure people.”

For Del Rosario, the pantry was more than a place to eat. As an art major he also served as inspiration: “When I first started volunteering in the pantry, one day I was restocking myself and I became obsessed with this quantity thing,” recalls. -he.

Reniel Del Rosario’s ceramic artwork inspired by UC Berkeley’s Food Pantry.Reniel Del Rosario

This led Del Rosario to create a series of ceramic replicas of consumer products, such as canned goods, snacks and meals on plates. The Berkeley Dining Hall presented his work on an expedition.

Del Rosario credits the united pantry community for their motivation to give back.

“I think volunteering in the pantry was one of the funniest I had in undergrad,” he said. “It made my day.”

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