By ELISA OGOT
When most people think of food insecurity, their minds may conjure up images of either younger children who rely on school food programs or older individuals living in shelters or relying on the SNAP program to be fed.
A 2018 survey conducted by researchers at Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab indicated that 36 percent of college students say they are food insecure. While the assumption often is that the majority of college students have meal plans at their colleges or universities, there are a great many students who are supporting themselves and can’t afford meal plans as well as tuition, lodging, and textbooks.
Unfortunately, the renowned California university system has become something of a poster child for collegiate food insecurity: “Over 100 thousand of students in the UC system … are considered food insecure – meaning they can’t afford nutritious food or have to skip meals. A 2016 survey by the University of California found that across the system, almost half of undergraduate students and a quarter of graduate students were food insecure,” reports Sara Harrison of KALW in San Francisco. To add some perspective, consider that “in-state tuition at the UCs has tripled since 1998.” Combine that fact with rising housing costs across California, and it begins to make a lot more sense why it’s getting harder and harder for low-income students to afford all that they need.
So how to combat this problem? “In 2014, the University of California started the Basic Needs Committee. The Committee works with students to help them figure out solutions to housing, mental health, and food security. If a student is coming to the pantry every month, the Basic Needs Committee will reach out to see if they need extra support,” writes Harrison of efforts at UC Berkeley.
In 2017, Ruben Canedo, who lead the formation of the Basic Needs Committee at Berkeley, visited Pittsburgh and was the keynote speaker at the University of Pittsburgh’s Collegiate Basic Needs Dialogue. During the conference, workshops included student panels and action clusters, each focused on specific aspects of basic needs security, including Collegiate Food Pantries, Food Insecurity and Food Rescue/Recovery on Campus, Collegiate Housing Insecurity, Attacking Financial Wellness, and Mental and Emotional Health.
These conversations represent plans that institutions of higher education in Pittsburgh are making to help their students meet basic needs, so they can focus on doing well in school. Both the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University now house food pantries on their respective campuses. CMU’s pantry specifically lists that it is a resource for undergraduate and graduate students only, while Pitt’s description of who has access to its pantry services is a bit broader–their website says that “All members of the Pitt community are welcome to use the pantry.”
As someone who recently graduated from college and had financial assistance only when it came to paying my tuition, there have definitely been some times when I didn’t feel like I had enough money to pay for food as well as my other living expenses. If I had learned about the Pitt Pantry while I still attended the University of Pittsburgh, I think that knowing their services were accessible to me would have eased my financial burden, and I could have focused on other things like schoolwork or extracurricular activities, instead of where my next meal was coming from.
Elisa Ogot is a NewPeople fellow.