Written by Allison Nitch
November 18, 2019
Image credit: Eli Christopher (illustration)
The state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food is known as food insecurity—and it’s a rising crisis on public and private college campuses nationwide.
“When students have to choose between buying food or textbooks, food often gets cut first,” says Gretchenrae Campera, assistant director of Student Success & Outreach.
As reported in The New York Times, a #RealCollege survey released in April 2019 by Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice found that 45 percent of the nearly 86,000 student respondents from more than 100 institutions reported food insecurity in the past 30 days.
Common causes of food insecurity include a growing number of students being financially responsible for children or other family members, along with rising cost of living and tuition expenses.
Seattle U hasn’t been immune to this difficult reality. With seed money allocated by Redhawk Dining partner Chartwells Higher Education and a renovated space hosted by the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA), the Seattle U Food Pantry opened in January 2019 and offers free supplemental groceries, toiletries and on-campus dining cards for faculty, staff and students. The food pantry is located in Pavilion 180.
In the months since opening, the pantry has had more than 400 visits, including many first-time clients, and its weekly grocery order has doubled. Ongoing funding is provided by Chartwells and Student Development, along with donations from local partners and campus community members. The pantry is open three days a week during the academic year and once a week during the summer quarter. Individuals with a current Seattle U identification card may access the pantry weekly
Pantry staff continues to learn how to best serve its clientele by issuing optional surveys to first-time and returning clients. Results prior to mid-May 2019 indicate 50 percent of its clients experience hunger multiple times a week.
Survey feedback also helps identify details such as demographics, dietary restrictions and what appliances or kitchen tools individuals have access to. Campera, who also oversees pantry operations, notes that “being attentive to survey responses helps us improve our inventory” such as stocking canned items with ring pulls that don’t require a can opener and food items that don’t require heating.
“Another food pantry best practice we incorporate is providing our branded, reusable shopping bags, which help normalize the shopping experience,” says Campera. The intent is to reinforce the message that the pantry is simply one of many other campus resources designed to help individuals maintain their well being, much like the gym or health services.
Prior to the pantry’s existence, the student-led Gender Justice Center (GJC)—an early champion of fostering food security on Seattle U’s campus—created a 2018 pilot program known as the Community Care Pantry in response to individuals skipping meals or not eating at all. The group collected and shared donated food and toiletry items in Chardin Hall and at smaller satellite pantries in other buildings. “The students of the Gender Justice Center identified a need and brought it the university’s attention—that’s why food security initiatives now exist on our campus,” Campera says. “They are the ones that truly drove this effort and continue to support us through partnership.”
There are many ways members of the campus community can contribute to the pantry. Individuals can drop off items or set up a recurring donation online. Additionally, students with meal plans may donate up to 100 remaining points from their accounts at any Chartwells register at the end of each academic quarter. The pantry is especially in need of fresh fruits, vegetables and culturally relevant items such as curries and sauces. (A full list of donation requests can be found at the link below.)
Learn more about the Seattle U Food Pantry hours, donations or how to take part in educational programming about food justice issues here.
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