How Colleges Can Combat Food Insecurity

Hunger is a staggering problem in the United States. In 2019, 35 million Americans struggled with hunger, according to Feeding America. More than 42 million people may experience food insecurity due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unfortunately, 38% of college students deal with food insecurity, according to a study from The Hope Center. This same study also found that 58% of students surveyed experienced basic needs insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the increased need, colleges must address campus hunger. Continue reading to learn how to get involved or benefit from aid.

What Is Food Insecurity?

Those with food insecurity may not know when they will eat their next meal. Common barriers that prevent them from acquiring food include lack of money and unreliable transportation to a grocery store. Learn more about the definition through the link below.

Food Insecurity Among College Students

Common Questions Students Can Ask to Get Help with Food Insecurity

  • How does food insecurity affect students?

    During a life stage that requires significant funds, many college students must support themselves. Lack of money and support can lead to food insecurity. According to Feeding America, 71% of college students identify as nontraditional, meaning they may work full time and attend school part time to support themselves.

  • How do college campuses deal with food insecurity?

    Many colleges provide students with access to food pantries. Feeding America food banks alone give food to 316 pantries on college and university campuses. However, several colleges host food pantries funded through local nonprofits.

  • How can you get free food in college?

    Besides applying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and visiting food pantries, struggling college students can find free meals at churches and campus events.

  • How can college students afford food?

    Creating a budget before attending college and sticking to it may prevent learners from living outside their means. However, government assistance like SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) helps college students afford food.

What Are Colleges Doing?

Fortunately, many college leaders know about student hunger and take actions to address it. More than 700 food pantries currently operate on student campuses. Additionally, community involvement clubs often host food drives on campus or facilitate meal donations. One organization, Swipe Hunger, encourages college students to host Swipe Drives, which allow learners with extra meal plan funds to donate their meals to struggling peers.

Any campus group can get involved in the fight to end campus hunger. Greek life organizations and academic clubs may rally members to collect and donate grocery gift cards to learners in need. Additionally, many local food banks need volunteers to sort through donations from grocery stores and food drives to ensure the food contains no mold and maintains proper packaging. Some college courses require service learning hours, and volunteering at a food bank or hosting a food drive often counts.

Sometimes food insecure individuals feel a stigma associated with receiving SNAP benefits or food pantry meals. So, college organizations also offer free food in subtle ways. This could include free pizza at a routine club meeting or a celebration with a comped meal at the campus dining hall.

If your campus currently does not offer many services to address food insecurity, read the following section to learn how you can encourage involvement.

How Can I Get My College Involved?

Faculty, staff, and alumni should work together to address campus hunger. Consider applying some of the previous examples at your campus, and ask for help from professors and graduates. Campus faculty members often enjoy sponsoring community involvement clubs and help recruit new members when previous members graduate. One motivated student can start a club that remains active on campus for years to come.

Most colleges and universities charge a student activity fee, which often goes to the school’s student life activity organization. For this reason, a student life organization typically listens to student requests and ideas. Encourage your campus’ student activity group to facilitate events with free food, food drives, and Swipe Drives.

Multiple college clubs can rally together for a friendly competition that doubles as a food drive. Consider planning a Canstruction Food Drive, which encourages student organizations to collect or purchase cans to construct a creative sculpture. Typically, workers from the local food bank judge the sculptures to select a winner. This event collects food for a campus pantry, but it also raises awareness about food insecurity.

What Can My College Do?

Aside from hosting events and volunteer days, colleges can fight food insecurity in other ways. Personal finance courses or education events teach students how to create and stick to a budget and build emergency savings. Schools can also provide informative personal finance material like brochures in the student union building.

College students can spread awareness about legislation that benefits food insecure individuals. For example, the End Pandemic Hunger for College Students Act temporarily suspended work requirements for college students benefiting from SNAP. This significantly helped students who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. College students can help by staying educated on current political topics and advocating for their peers by expressing concerns to their Congress representatives.

Additionally, colleges may hire full-time staff members to help students register for SNAP, locate food pantries, and form a budget. Students who lack reliable transportation to the grocery store may benefit from a free shuttle system or on-campus grocery store.

Presenting these ideas to a campus president may spark long-lasting change and dramatically improve students’ lives. There are many ways to battle hunger, so do not give up.

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