Congress looking at ways to reduce college food insecurity as schools fight student hunger

Legislation would add to efforts already underway at many colleges, such as food pantries and special meal plans

The problem of food insecurity on college campuses has caught the attention of Congress, where new pending legislation would make it easier to collect data on food and housing insecurity and connect hungry college students with resources to help solve the issue.

The Closing the College Hunger Gap Act was written following a recent report that says more than 30 percent of college students may face food insecurity, according to The U.S. Accountability Office

Higher ed institutions across the U.S. are currently fighting food insecurity on college campuses. In Wisconsin, Carthage College created Luther’s Lunchbox, a safe place where students can find nourishment. “Students can walk through and grab a snack bar, grab something they can microwave during the day when they need a breakfast, lunch, or dinner to just kind of fill the gap during the day,” Administrator Debbie Clark told Spectrum News.

From UB: The hidden costs of food insecurity on campus

At Western Michigan University, students use their ID to access a food pantry called Invisible Need. “Students can come once every two weeks and grab a bag of food,” Josh Conley, an Invisible Need Graduate Assistant, told the WMU student newspaper, the Western Herald. “It’s not designed to be the only source of food, but it is designed to help.”

For the fall 2019 semester, the University of Massachusetts collaborated with the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy to create a supplemental unlimited meal plan, an emergency meals program and a meal plan donation fund for hungry college students. “We have access to a lot of student groups, and [UMass] Dining has the resources that we may not necessarily have,” CEPA Campaign and Advocacy Coordinator Barkha Bhandari told Massachusetts Daily Collegian. “Even with all these new initiatives, they don’t mean anything until the students actually know that they exist.”

From UB: Food pantries work to end campus hunger

To help spread the word of food insecurity on college campuses, higher ed leaders first need to find out what’s happening at their own institutions. “Ask students, either through surveys or focus groups, how they are managing their housing and food concerns, and where their challenges and strengths are,” Assistant Professor Katie Broton of the University of Iowa College of Education told UB late last year

Another option involves creating “a signaling effect” similar to how faculty members include a resource list of services on courses syllabi to prove the college is aware that there are hungry college students, said Broton, who has studied food insecurity on college campuses for a number of years. “Even that small paragraph might signal to students that, ‘Hey, this is something I’m aware of, and we’re working toward helping students meet their needs,’ she added.

Resource: Running a campus food pantry


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