Craving Food Security
When college students can't afford to feed themselves, where do they go?
by Brian Sommer
Near the end of the fall 2018 semester, Stephan Hatchett, a sophomore video/television and film major at Hofstra University, ran out of food options after bleeding his meal points dry.
“I went through my meal plan by the time fall break started in October. I was out of $900,” said Hatchett. As a resident assistant in the Netherlands complex, he is assigned the default meal plan at the beginning of the semester. “My dad added money to my account, but that was gone around the beginning of November.”
“Then I started going to the Pride Pantry,” added Hatchett.
Open on Wednesdays and Thursdays, Hofstra University’s Pride Pantry is the on-campus food bank located near the Office of Residence Life where students, faculty and staff at risk of food insecurity can go stock up on healthy, nonperishable food items.
Visitors do not need to prove they are in financial need in order to receive a bag of food. They only need to show their Hofstra ID and take a brief, anonymous survey in order for the pantry’s facilitators to collect data about who is typically in need of assistance.
Hatchett’s predicament is not uncommon for students with lower-value meal plans according to Beth McGuire, the senior assistant dean of students and director of Residence Life.
“We tend to see more students utilizing the pantry closer to the end of the semester. That’s around the time that they start running out of meal points,” said McGuire. “We’ll start to see an increase in students using the pantry around the end of April and beginning of May this semester.”
McGuire pioneered the development of an on-campus food bank after spearheading a similar initiative at Stony Brook University, where she chaired a civic engagement committee. Their pantry started operating in September of 2013.
“When we first opened [the Stony Brook food pantry], there were more than 50 people waiting outside,” said McGuire. Just over three years later, Hofstra’s very own Pride Pantry opened its doors.
McGuire also noted that repeat visitors are also an ordinary occurrence.
“We have some students that come to the Pride Pantry every week … some students visit both days that we’re open.”
With a desire to further understand the process that visitors must go through in order to receive assistance, I went to the Pride Pantry myself.
I was greeted by Cassius Owens, a first-year psychology student and Pride Pantry volunteer. He mentioned that I was not the first person to visit that day.
“We opened up at 4:30 and I’ve already had three people stop in,” said Owens. “It’s probably going to be five or six by the end of the night.”
As he said this, he reached for a prepared bag of nonperishable items in a bin underneath his desk. The bag contained a jar of peanut butter, boxes of whole-grain pasta, and an assortment of canned proteins and vegetables. He also reached for a bag of lollipops.
“I brought these in myself,” said Owens.
Without resources like the Pride Pantry, students who lack food security resort to cutting important nutrients and even entire meals from their diet in order to make ends meet. This is an issue that Jessica Jaeger, Compass Food Group’s in-house dietitian, says can harm a student’s academic performance.
“Too little energy and carbohydrate intake contributes to low blood glucose levels which can result in irritability, fatigue and trouble focusing,” said Jaeger. “All of these things may make it difficult to concentrate and succeed in classes.”
In addition to slipping grades, those who struggle with long-term food insecurity increase their risk of serious health issues
“Long-term health risks associated with greater intake of energy dense foods meaning food that is high in calories and fat but low in other nutrients like vitamins and minerals) could result in being both obese and paradoxically malnourished,” added Jaeger. “This is associated with chronic health conditions such as hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, amongst others.”
As a result of this concerning information, college campuses are taking steps to combat food insecurity in their student populations. As of January 2018, The College and University Food Bank Alliance reported that over 573 campuses across the United States contain food pantries.
In January 2018, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced an initiative to mandate that all state and city universities of New York would be required to have food banks on campus. This initiative left Beth McGuire exhilarated.
“I was thrilled that they saw the need and developed a plan to address the need,” said McGuire.