Food Pantries on Campus Make Sense

By: Monica Davidson

food on shelves-cropped for blogGoing to college is heavy on the pocketbook regardless of your income bracket. With a nationwide cultural and economic shift towards attending college more and more people are attending college. This means that groups in which food insecurity generally occurs are now attending college more frequently, and people with no personal income to contribute to their schooling are able to take out student loans and attend college in an attempt to better their circumstances. Since the 2008 economic collapse, which caused food insecurity to rise 24% in a single year, food insecurity rates still haven’t returned to their former levels (Coleman-Jensen, Nord, & Singh, 2013). That stark rise in food insecurity meant that households formerly not touched by food insecurity were impacted. Some 27% of people experiencing food insecurity make too much money to qualify for SNAP benefits (food stamps) (Resnikoff, Food Insecurity is at Historic Highs and Getting Worse, 2014).

In 2014, 10% of Feeding America’s 46.5 million adult clients were students, including about 2 million who were full-time students (Weinfield, et al., 2014). About 31% reported having to choose between food or school-related items in the last year (Weinfield, et al., 2014). As we make a push for Breakfast in the Classroom across elementary and secondary schools, with the aim to improve grades, attendance, and overall health and behavior, the same hazards to education exist amongst students pursuing their undergraduate and graduate degrees. People don’t simply turn 18 and head off to college and are suddenly food secure. Students are regularly away from home and on their own for the first time, have relatively little disposable income, and, in the case of graduate students in particular, regularly have families to care for as well. In fact, between 2007 and 2010 the number of food stamp recipients holding a doctoral degree tripled, with those holding a master’s degree increasing nearly as much (Wade, 2012).

In response to this often overlooked need, many schools have developed their own food pantries. The oldest college food pantry in the nation, the one at Michigan State University, has been running since 1993, and more than half of their clients are graduate students (MSU Food Bank, 2015). Western Oregon University, in a study published in 2014, was found to have a rate of 59% of students who were food insecure at some point in the prior year (Patton-Lopez, Lopez-Cevallos, Cancel-Tirado, & Vazquez, 2014). Here locally, several of our colleges run their own food pantries.

University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) opened a food pantry on campus in March, following a survey done by the 4-H Club which revealed 78% of those surveyed did not have enough food for themselves or their household (Hehemann, 2015). Other colleges with food pantries include the University of Arkansas, University of Central Arkansas, and Pulaski Technical College (Full-Circle Food Pantry) (Food Pantry, 2015) (Bear Essential Food Bank).

For many students attending college, local food pantries, whether on campus or off, are their only source of supplemental nutrition, as most students ages 18-49 are ineligible for SNAP. Stringent requirements within the SNAP program make it more difficult for students to receive SNAP benefits (see the extra requirements here: http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/students .  (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program SNAP: Students, 2014)

Things such as this make it easy to see why students can struggle under the high costs of living associated with being a college student. Despite attending college to work to improve their circumstances, the very act of attending college can sometimes jeopardize their ability to receive public assistance or continue their current employment. Working full-time while attending college full-time, while possible, can be quite stressful and often times students grades suffer for it. However, many of the students who participate in food pantries on campus have a very strong work ethic and are simply having a difficult time making ends meet.

This article, Food Pantries on Campus Make Sense, first appeared on Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance.

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