As food insecurity and homelessness among college students grow, the once parodied image of the starving student eating everything in sight ceases to be a laughing matter. Higher education for many is the pursuit of a better life. Along the journey toward that idealized destination, some students will face impossible hardships: surviving on one — if that — meal a day, finding a safe place to sleep each night and struggling to make it through each day until graduation. Without assistance, some will be forced to drop out.
Many colleges have taken steps to reach out to these at-risk students. Whether they are informing students about the application process for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), opening food pantries on campus or going through the necessary channels to be able to accept food stamps (or SNAP benefits) in their dining halls, colleges and universities nationwide have recognized the very real need many students are facing.
Recently, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has taken steps within their state to allow students to use food stamps in their dining halls. An action such as this can be a great relief to a struggling student, allowing them to eat a nutritious, balanced meal on campus that they do not have to prepare. However, becoming able to accept SNAP benefits is a long, drawn out process filled with bureaucratic hurdles that prevent many school from addressing the problems their students are facing today.
Other ways to help the ever-present need
On-campus food pantries
Hosting a discrete food pantry on campus gives students the opportunity to pick up a few essential nutritional items that will get them through until their next paycheck. Helping to ease this stress enables students to focus more on their education than their empty stomachs. It also helps to increase their sense of being a valued part of the campus community.
“I just want to say thank you. I walked in and I felt terrified. I cried at how many options there are, and how much people must care to do this. Bless you all,” read a note left by one student at George Washington University’s food pantry according to Inside Higher Education.
Educate students on their options
Students may not be aware of the government assistance they can qualify to receive. Having that information accessible, along with people who can help them fill out forms and work their way through the process, could make the difference between retaining a student and losing them.
Meal plan for students with financial need
Similar to the school lunch program in K–12, higher education could look to provide its in-need students at least one meal a day to help alleviate some of the food insecurity they face. Oregon State, in addition to their food pantry and accepting SNAP benefits in their market store, created a meal plan especially designed for students in financial crisis.
Encourage student involvement
One UCLA student headed up drive to use leftover campus dining money on her card to buy extra meals and deliver them to a homeless shelter. After working with the school administration, they were able to come up with a school-sanctioned way to turn those meals into vouchers that students in need could use. Since then the Swipe Out Hunger program has grown to more than 30 chapters at different campuses across the country. Working with passionate young students can bring new ideas and energy to the fight against hunger.