Staff Perspective: Food Insecurity in Higher Education
- November 18, 2020
- Case Study
The Staff Perspective blog series provides Hub staff the opportunity to connect their experiences and passions to the ongoing work at the Hub and at Georgetown. This Staff Perspective post was written Sarah Cowgill, a Hub Administrative Specialist. In this post, Sarah reflects on learning about the pervasiveness of food insecurity and highlights Georgetown’s response.
When I was in high school I went on a trip to West Virginia, where I had the chance to volunteer at a school providing summer reading enrichment services. The program helped students keep up their reading levels over the summer, and provided the students with breakfast and lunch. As they explained to us, those two meals might be all those students ate that day. It was hard to see the level of poverty in that area and sadly it wasn’t the first time I witnessed how food insecurity affects young children.
A few years later I was a camp counselor traveling around Ohio to different churches to provide summer camp programming. At a church in Cleveland, I met a kid who had most of his baby teeth replaced by temporary crowns. A lot of the food he ate came from the convenience store across the street, the most affordable and closest food store to his home. Each day, during that week of camp, we were able to provide participants with both a healthy breakfast and lunch. Like the rural community in West Virginia, a lot of the Cleveland campers I worked with were dealing with food insecurity.
These experiences, albeit impactful, were just a small glimpse into a much larger problem. Food insecurity is widespread in the United States; it happens in cities, rural areas and yes, even suburbs. Children across this country are growing up without enough food. In 2018 the Economic Research Service of the USDA found that 5.6 million American households had “very low food security” (See the report here). In that same study, they found that 1 in 7 households with children experienced such food insecurity (220,000 households total). It is no surprise then, that some of those children become college students with the same food insecurity issues.
Food insecurity is a danger that does not disappear when a student goes off to college. In fact, college students, on average, are more likely to be food insecure. The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice created a survey that “specifically evaluates access to affordable food and housing.” In 2019 the Hope Center found that “45% of respondents were food insecure in the prior 30 days” of completing the survey.
We know food insecurity is affecting college students at Georgetown and some great work has been done on campus to combat this issue. In 2018 Georgetown opened the Hoya Hub food pantry. More recently they acquired a refrigerator so they can offer both non-perishable and perishable food items. Students Advancing Food Equity (SAFE) has partnered with outside restaurants to provide some of those non-perishables. Additionally, students on campus have teamed with Swipe Out Hunger to allow students with extra meal plan swipes to donate them to a student in need. But what can a student do during COVID-19 when they are not on campus?
Directing some of the pantry funds towards grocery cards to students in need could be a temporary solution. Georgetown should also consider providing services to help eligible students apply for SNAP benefits. Considering that COVID cases are still high across the country, coming back to campus may take longer than expected. Therefore, it is more important than ever to consider the long-term help we can provide college students struggling with food insecurity.
You can read more about Hoya Hub’s Food Pantry, by clicking here or by visiting it at its new location in the Village A community room (as of October 2020). You can also email the pantry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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