Central New York, Community, Education, Food, Politics

Educated But Hungry: Food Insecurity on College Campuses

The Hendricks Chapel Food Pantry at Syracuse University is freshly stocked for the day in mid-April. (c) 2018 Sabrina Maggiore

Audio Transcript:Educated and Hungry Final Script


By Sabrina Maggiore SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC NEWS) With tuition increases across the board, some college students are struggling to make ends meet. Despite financial aid packages, unaccounted expenses such as textbooks, rent, and food can add up and force students to make some difficult choices.

As expenses mount, college students are left to grapple with some difficult questions: weighing whether they spend extra for a nutritional meal, eat smaller portions to stretch food into the next week, or skip out on meals entirely until the next paycheck. These questions are some of the factors that students who suffer from food insecurity deal with regularly.

“Food insecurity includes being worried about where your next meal will come from even if eventually you do get that meal. The actual worrying about it is its own kind of problem and it causes people anxiety to be high which we know is bad for your brain chemistry and causes you to be unable to cope with other areas of your life,” said Policy Researcher and Syracuse University Professor, Sarah Hamersma, who authored a study on food insecurity.

While the topic is one that is rarely discussed, studies on food insecurity estimate that it affects nearly 15 percent of college students. A new report published by the Wisconsin HOPE lab suggests the problem could be greater than that, affecting up to 36 percent of all college students. Moreover, the report shows the number is significantly higher for students attending community colleges and places that number at 42 percent.

While the exact scope of the issue is difficult to measure, Hamersma said regardless too many college students are just not eating like they should be. “Either way it’s a very real problem,”Hamersma said.

Ginny Yerdon, supervisor of a food pantry at Syracuse university, says colleges and universities are recognizing this.

“I think more places are realizing it’s an issue. It’s one of those problems that goes un-talked about a lot. Students can be a little embarrassed about it sometimes to say they are hungry and not getting nutritious food,” Yerdon said.

In just five years, several universities have established campus wide food pantries and have implemented programs to help mediate the issue.

“There are over 600 food pantries in other colleges and food banks across the country. When I first joined in 2013 there was a hundred, there’s now about 600. So, in 6 years they’ve increased that,” said Yerdon.

Erica Kokoszka is one Syracuse University student working with Syracuse university’s food pantry on a new project.

“We are currently working on a project called swipe out hunger. What this would do is allow students to donate unused meal swipes to students in need,” Kokoszka said.

This project would seek to provide needy students with more options for nourishment.

“That would be another avenue for students to access some hot food that’s prepared. Some other things. I do non-perishable food items in the pantry so getting hot foods will be beneficial to students,” Yerdon said. Swipe out hunger is one national organization mobilizing to fight food insecurity. So far, more than 100 universities across the U.S. have implemented programs like these to help hungry students eat. Kokoszka thinks it’s a good start.

“ We see swipe out hunger as one of our next sustainable, consistent and longlasting effort to tackle food insecurity among our students,”Kokoszka said.

For many students, admitting they need help is not an easy task. Both Yerdon and Kokoszka said it’s important that colleges and universities take steps now to destigmatize the issue.

“I think a lot of our problems as a university when it comes to food insecurity comes from the lack of conversation and lack of awareness that the problem may be present in our community, in our city, on our campus, and in the country,”Kokoszka said.

Policy researcher and Author Sarah Hamersma, believes colleges and universities can go even farther. She’d like to see a combination of additional university support, federal government aid, and more food pantry and student groups trying to help reduce or eliminate the growing problem, of students, unable to pay for food, on college campuses.