The problem of college food insecurity is way more serious than many people believe it is since it always involves a social stigma and a set of stereotypes and mental pressure that forces people to avoid even talking about it. Still, according to the new study from Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, more than a third of college students today cannot always afford to eat or have stable housing. Add the constantly rising costs of tuition and the books, the endless student loans to earn a diploma that should pay off one day, and it turns out that we have at least 36% of college students who fall into the food insecurity range.
Without a doubt, no student should be choosing between purchasing a textbook, clothes, or being able to pay for food. It is vital to understand that food insecurity exists and learn about available resources without feeling underwhelmed and broken. According to a definition provided by Feeding America, the problem of food insecurity can be defined as "a federal measure of a household's ability to provide enough food for every person in the household to have an active, healthy life". It also shows that the college students appear in a more challenging situation since they have to cope with various financial matters while having to complete their assignments on time and still stay active and hard-working through the hectic schedules. Luckily, there are solutions one can consider, yet it is vital to understand the food insecurity resources and know what you have a right for.
Why The College Students Experience Food Insecurity & How It Impacts Learning
Even though the majority of college students won't admit to being trapped in food insecurity, the statistics prove otherwise as about 11.2% of students attending four-year colleges appeared in the lists of those who face student hunger. According to the Urban Institute, about 13.5% of learners attending vocational schools in the United States had to cope with this problem as well. If we take a quick look at the surveys of the full-time workers in the United States, it appears that 78% of them live paycheck to paycheck, which makes it obvious that college students appear even at a greater risk of food insecurity, especially those who are over 30 years old.
According to another survey by Feeding America, we can see that 31% of households who receive help from the organization are forced to choose between food and education all the time. The food insecurity problems often come with another challenge of being homeless. Taking a look at the reports by USA Today, it is revealed that about 58,000 students state that they are homeless as they fill their FAFSA applications.
If you are wondering about how could a college student already enrolled become so poor and face food insecurities, it is enough to speak in numbers and say that a study of more than 30,000 college students showed that about half of two-year and four-year learners are food insecure. To understand the underlying reasons, you should add the housing insecurity and the 14% of those who face homelessness in addition to food insecurity to see the entire scope of the problem. Taking a look at Still Hungry and Homeless in College, we can see that 36% of university students face the woes of food insecurity, which results in cutting the portions of their meals or skipping it entirely because they have no funds (as they go for tuition, housing, clothes, and transportation among other things).
It is important to talk about the ranges of food insecurity and the meaning behind them. Turning to USDA hunger type measurements, we have:
- High Food Security. It is a group that has no challenges in accessing nutritious food.
- Marginal Food Security. It means that a person has a certain bit of anxiety about having enough food or times when there are food shortages. Still, it has no effect on food intake or any diet changes.
- Low Food Security. It means that the food a person can receive has reduced quality with no variety. Still, it does not lead to a significant reduction in food intake.
- Very Low Food Security. It stands for those people who have to reduce food intake more than once or have their eating patterns constantly disrupted.
Of course, any college student can suffer from food insecurity, yet the ones belonging to minorities have also suffered food insecurity as children. There are also those who already had to suspend their education due to financial constraints. These people are more likely to seek food resources and solutions, which also means that their nutrition intake is always limited. Next, we should not forget about increasing college tuition rates and the lack of proper financial help with student loans. Let us not forget about older students or those who have families or sick (or disabled) people in their family to take care of. According to statistics, more than one in four college students today have a child, which provides additional responsibilities and has an effect on learning time, costs, and required resources.
Finally, facing the food shortage has a dramatic effect on academic success as students who deal with it have lower grades and test scores. According to research, there is a correlation between GPA and food insecurity as those who had a 3.1 GPA or higher were 60% less likely to face the food insecurity problem.
How Can Colleges Help Combat The Food Insecurity on Campus?
Unfortunately, the majority of colleges today do not advertise their measures to address the hunger crisis on campus and the students who face food insecurity are hoping to find a part-time job or apply for some scholarship if they are lucky. In the majority of cases, students face social pressure as they consider even asking about it or admitting the problem exists. Nevertheless, many schools offer helpful programs, including:
- College Meal Assistance. One of the famous examples is Swipe Out Hunger, which makes it possible for students to donate their unused food portions to fellow students in need.
- Free Food Community Events. You can always show up at some college event, which will help you to avoid psychological pressure and still have a good meal with fresh fruits or a simple bite of crackers or chips. There is no need to feel ashamed!
- Various Bagged Meal Options. It makes it possible to take some food home without being limited to one big meal at the local cafe. This way you can plan your food intake accordingly.
- Support Centers For Disadvantaged Students. Many colleges in the United States offer special support programs to help students deal with financial matters in terms of education, including food insecurities. It often includes transportation, housing, and the various kinds of support that help you to avoid feeling hungry and exhausted.
- Student Organizations Support. Do not ignore help from the student clubs and the various fraternities and volunteering teams if you need help. You can simply ask them to brainstorm various ideas and solutions even if you are not facing the hunger yourself.
In addition to these obvious options, one can also consider the local food pantries in the local community. If your school does not have one, consider community assistance organizations, and soup kitchens. The students with children may turn to The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP to receive food-related help.
Community Support for College Students Facing Food Insecurities
Community support represents one of the most efficient food insecurity solutions since you do not have to deal with your college and can maintain relative anonymity if it is an issue for you. While you can look for various community organizations locally, consider:
- Local Food Pantries. You can use this helpful tool to locate some of them in your area. You only have to explain your situation and learn what they can offer to help you.
- The United Way. This famous NGO focuses on community work in the field of education, strengthening financial stability, and the health of the communities not only in the USA but in over 40 countries worldwide.
- American Red Cross. If you require some medical assistance or have certain learning challenges, which also affect your food patterns, consider turning to the local branch in your area.
In addition to that, you can consider various church-based communities and Christian organizations as you seek help and support. You can become engaged in volunteering work and receive various food support or earn additional funds.
How You Can Help Students Facing Food Shortages
The most obvious step for many people reading this would be to get involved and help find the solutions for this disturbing problem. Actually, there is a lot you can do, including:
- Joining various social media campaigns. Think about the famous #Voices4Change campaign aiming to bring up the struggles faced by college students.
- Starting a Fundraiser. Consider looking into Feeding America's Set The Table guide that can serve as the starting point of what you can do.
- Providing home-cooked meals or sharing your food. You can talk to your local college and decide what you can provide by cooperating with the other students.
- Partnering with your local school. Contact your local college's resource center and discuss the options.
- Working along with the local charity or church organizations. Regardless if you choose any religious or non-religious NGOs, it is always a good option to start with.
- Making donations. You can turn to Food Recovery Network or make private donations to students in need.
- Becoming engaged in volunteering. Volunteer at the food pantry or help the struggling students in terms of learning. It will also help them to have more free time as they focus on other things and can think of sports, hobbies, or any other helpful activities.
- Being an advocate for students and starting with social work. Remember that the most important contribution you can do is addressing the most common misconceptions related to students facing food insecurity and the stigma that usually comes along and makes students feel ashamed of their situation.
Let us not forget about all the mental pressure that is inevitable and be the change we all want to see happen!
Additional Helpful Food Insecurity Resources
As always, you should consider additional resources as you analyze your (or someone else’s) situation and seek solutions:
- College and University Food Bank Alliance. It aims at colleges and universities in terms of setting and maintaining various food banks for the students.
- National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness. It has helpful information about the latest campaigns and guides how to start with a food pantry or how to talk to a student in need.
- Feeding America. It offers one of the best resources for volunteers, providing statistics, scientific information, and helpful resources on the subject.
- Not Rich Guides. It is a social campaign worth checking because it unites colleges all over the United States with the aim of raising awareness about students in need and helping them find help.
- First-Generation, Low-income Students (FLIP). As the name implies, it provides helpful resources about the policies, scholarships, safe spaces, food help, legal assistance, and more.
Most importantly, you should remember that it is never shameful to ask for help and talk to your college advisor about your situation because we all have our responsibilities and it takes a lot of strength and mental effort to continue with the studies. It only shows how important it is to eat properly. Seeking help, you make your future secure as you can focus on your health and education, living your life differently!