When community college students go hungry

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A food pantry at Columbia-Greene Community College.
A food pantry at Columbia-Greene Community College.


By Laura LaVacca

Campus News

Food pantries have been springing up on college campuses across the nation. The New York Times ran a piece in June noting the more than 300 colleges that are addressing what the Agriculture Department calls “food insecurity” on campuses. The article explains that as tuition prices are increasing and more low-income students are attending college, making ends meet is harder than ever. Previous research has shown that lack of food affects cognition, energy levels and ability to focus — all of which contribute to academic success. These food pantries, as well as other meal options, offer a reprieve for students.

There are many national organizations backing these initiatives to address the hunger crisis among students. National organization The College and University Food Bank Alliance is a professional group consisting of campus-based programs that focus on helping students with poverty, putting food on the table for their families and keeping students fed and focused on school. The alliance was co-founded by the Michigan State Student Food Bank and the Oregon State University Food Pantry. They explain that food insecurity has increasingly become an issue on college and university campuses and “can pose a significant barrier to student success.” The organization understands that education is necessary to help students succeed and get out of poverty, and therefore they need support with everyday essentials to make that dream a reality. Part of their mission is to provide support and training to campus food banks. pantry-one

Likewise the The New York City Food Policy Center at Hunter College is another organization that “develops intersectoral, innovative and evidence-based solutions to preventing diet-related diseases and promoting food security in New York and other cities.” The Center works with government officials, the community, and the public to help create food security. They use their research, policymakers and expertise with the goal of making “New York a model for smart, fair food policy.”

There are a plethora of other organizations that are fighting hunger on college campuses. They include MSU Student Food Bank, Oregon State University’s Human Services Resource Center Food Pantry, Presidents United to Solve Hunger (PUSH) and UC Berkeley Food Pantry.

On college campuses, many pantries are springing up in the form of rooms stocked with free goods that students can simply walk into and gather their items. Most recently on Long Island, The NEST, as it is referred to on Nassau Community College’s campus, is a food pantry that opened just last fall. The pantry is a non-profit organization supported by the campus as well as Long Island food banks. All money donated to the NEST goes directly to the purchase of food and the operation of the pantry. It is fully run by volunteers. The Nassau community basically shops at the pantry as they would any other store. It is also open to faculty and staff members.

“We want to encourage people to not worry about food prices because they have to pay their school bills. We want them to know we have their backs,” food pantry volunteer at the NEST, Chris Vento, explains.

“It’s fully stocked with all packaged foods like cans of soups, pasta, veggies. It gets very busy,” Vento continues. “During Thanksgiving Turkeys are donated to the pantry and we give them out for a Thanksgiving dinner along with bags of vegetables.

“The pantry is really to help as many people in the Nassau Community College family as possible.”

Vento’s description is not unlike many of the other goals of campuses nationwide that are trying to find ways to help students cope with sustenance. The New York Times article also notes how colleges are adapting meal plans and voucher programs to help students.  John H. Beckman, a New York University spokesman, explained that the institution is starting a food voucher program that would allow students to use meal vouchers up to six times for free if they run out of money or are simply hungry. Some other colleges instituted another program where students can donate their own meal plans to other students who cannot afford to eat.

Stony Brook University recent graduate and site manager, Teresa Tagliaferri, stated that students often show up in larger numbers towards the end of the semester due to meal plans running low. Donations of “swipes” or meal vouchers would help these students feel less stressed about where their next meal will come from — especially during finals week.

There is no doubt in this day and age that education is a necessary key to attaining most good jobs. These food pantries and organizations recognize that students need a lot of support while on their academic journeys.  Completion of degrees is linked to student’s personal life just as much as their academic performance on campus.

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