By Alyssa Casey
For many, a college degree represents a path to a better job and a more financially secure future. But with rising tuition and housing costs, many college students simply trying to access a quality education struggle with hunger.
According to Feeding America’s Hunger in 2014 study, 1 in 10 adults receiving assistance from Feeding America-sponsored food pantries is a student. Two million of these students are full-time, and 1 million are part-time students.
At Humboldt State University (HSU) in Arcata, Calif., students, faculty, and community groups decided to do something about this. These groups united to address hunger on their campus and campuses across the United States and created Food for Thought.
The program provides assistance to food-insecure students through a campus food cupboard, which opened in October. The cupboard stocks a variety of foods, including dried beans, canned goods, and spices, to provide students in need not just empty calories, but nutritious and balanced meals. The program also serves as a bridge by connecting students to more sustainable food and housing assistance such as CalFresh, California’s state food assistance program.
The students and faculty members involved with Food for Thought know that addressing hunger means more than just providing emergency food. They are diving deeper, conducting research to better understand the scope and causes of college food insecurity. Even though colleges across the United States are increasingly aware of the problem, there are no comprehensive nationwide surveys of student hunger.
The results of initial HSU student-led research show that 1 in 3 HSU students say that they sometimes or often run out of food and have no additional money to purchase more, while 1 in 5 regularly skipped meals because of lack of money to purchase food.
Follow-up research led by HSU students and faculty is currently under way. Food for Thought plans to use this research to push for greater awareness and advocate to eliminate procedural hurdles that prevent students from receiving long-term food assistance.
Hunger is a health issue that affects not only physical health, but cognitive functions and academic performance. That is why Bread for the World consistently works to strengthen children’s access to school meals and other child nutrition programs.
Bread plans to work diligently this year to ensure that Congress reauthorizes the child nutrition bill, which is set to expire this fall. In fact, this year’s Offering of Letters focuses on the importance of nutrition among children, who are especially vulnerable to the effects of malnutrition during their early years of development.
Bread also protects funding for federal and state food assistance such as SNAP and advocates for a living wage and refundable tax credits, so adult students can continue their education without facing hunger and poverty.
Efforts like HSU’s Food for Thought show that just a few concerned people can make progress toward ending hunger. In 2015, Bread invites you to learn about hunger in your community, get involved in local projects like Food for Thought, and join us in advocating for policies that eliminate barriers and increase opportunities for our neighbors struggling with hunger and poverty.
Alyssa Casey is a government relations coordinator at Bread for the World.