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Food Insecurity on College Campuses

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By: Maureen McCoy MS, RD
Lecturer in Nutrition, College of Health Solutions
Pitchfork Pantry Faculty Advisor
Faculty Senate Member and lead of the resolution on food insecurity

 While COVID has highlighted some of our most vulnerable populations and the health inequities that exist, it has also brought to light food insecurities among college students.  Food insecurity is defined as lack of reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable, safe, and nutritious food.  Students are paying for tuition, books and living expenses, and often, the last thing on their full plate is where their next meal will come from.  According to the 2018 Government Accountability Office (GAO) Report and 2016 Hunger on Campus Report:

  • 30% of college students are food insecure
  • 56% of food insecure students are working
  • 75% of food insecure students receive financial aid
  • 43% of food insecure students have a meal plan
  • Food insecure students also report experiencing some type of housing insecurity

 With these numbers, what are some possible solutions?  Food banks help provide some temporary relief, but the problem is much bigger than what a college food pantry can provide.  Some proposed solutions in the literature have included:

  • Expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to allow students to use SNAP on campus, and decrease the work requirements associated with receiving SNAP (College Student Hunger Act of 2019 introduced in the Senate 7/2019)
  • Formation of a Basic Needs Hub on campus which checks in on health and housing needs and often includes a food bank
  • Redirection of unused food from campus dining halls and corporate events
  • Boosting of federal education funding and supporting associated legislation

What is ASU doing to help in the fight against food insecurity?

  • A student-run club called The Pitchfork Pantry started in 2017 in response to research showing high rates of food insecurity in the dorms at ASU.  The club started at the Tempe and Downtown campus, and has now expanded to the Poly and West campus as well as the tutoring centers which provide packs of non-perishable food items to students. 
    • In response to COVID, the pantry has pop-up events every other Saturday on the Tempe campus to provide non-perishable and sometimes perishable foods to students due to a relationship with local food banks.  This will expand to the other campuses in Spring 2021. 
    • Follow the pantry on Instagram and Facebook for updates on upcoming events:  @asupitchforkpantry
    • ASU administration is seeking alternative innovative solutions to alleviate food insecurity beyond the campus food pantry. 
    • Food and housing insecurity has recently been raised as an area of concern at the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) and a Food and Housing Insecurity Work Group has recently started with leadership from ASU, UA and NAU to discuss best practices to fight food and housing insecurity starting with gathering data at each campus (ASU took part in the HOPE survey in October 2020 which measures food and housing insecurity and those results will come in Spring 2021).
    • The Student-Faculty subcommittee of the Faculty Senate is working on a resolution to propose some possible solutions to the food insecurity issue.
    • University Student Government (USG) has identified food insecurity as one of their priorities for 2020-21 and have established a working group.   

While there is still work to be done, know that the issue has risen in importance particularly in the past semester, and we will continue to shine a light on it until some solutions and progress can be made. The health of our ASU students is one of our main focuses as a hungry student cannot learn. 

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