College Hunger – A Recap
When a student goes to college, they are typically faced with a mountain of financial burdens. Tuition and fees, room and board and books can add up quickly. Once money is spent on those needs and loans are taken out, there can be little left in a student’s bank account for necessities, like food.
From 2017-2018, the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development completed The Campus Cupboard Study in partnership with Eden Hall Foundation and Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. The study involved a needs assessment of the extent of hunger on campuses in the Greater Pittsburgh region. It addressed student characteristics, food insecurity, consequences of food insecurity, sources of income and attitudes about food banks. The assessment specifically examined hunger among various groups, such as students of color and first-generation college students, who are at higher risk for food insecurity and related consequences.
The study found that student hunger is pervasive – 29% of the 6,222 student respondents from 11 colleges or universities in southwestern Pennsylvania reported moderate or high levels of food insecurity.
The highest rates of food insecurity in this study, 40% and up, were found among homeless students, black and Latino students and first-generation college students. Students with children and those who were financially independent experienced rates close to 40%.
Food insecurity affects a student’s health, his or her ability to learn, and creates stress. You can read more about The Campus Cupboard Study here.
College Hunger – The Progress
Since the findings of this study have been released, many of the colleges and universities involved have established more ways for students to secure food on campus. We wanted to take a look at the progress behind this and are proud to kick off our College Food Pantry series. Over the next several weeks, we will share the story of a college pantry within our network.
The first to be featured is Pioneer Pantry at Point Park University, which came to life after PhD student, Veronika Panagiotou, spent months researching college hunger. A survey of more than 300 Point Park students found about 38% of them faced food insecurity. After much planning and implementation, Pioneer Pantry opened its doors in the beginning of the fall 2017 semester.
Pioneer Pantry is not just available for students, though. Faculty and staff who find themselves not knowing where their next meal will come from can also visit the pantry.
The findings of The Campus Cupboard Study and the internal Point Park study were startling, at first, to staff.
“I think we were all surprised, any of us at any university, that students were as food insecure as they are and because we think if students can afford tuition and books and room that they can afford food, but in fact, the reason that they can’t afford food is because they’re paying for tuition and books and room,” Starr-Fiedler said.
Pioneer Pantry volunteers fill about 40 orders each month. Much of the food at the pantry comes from Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Personal care items are also available.
“We also think it’s important for students to just have a good life and to be able to thrive and not just survive,” Starr-Fiedler said. “If they’re getting food from the pantry and that’s able to let them go out and enjoy an afternoon cup of coffee, then that’s important to us as well.”
Ta’Sey Harmon graduated from Point Park in spring of 2018. She started going to the Pioneer Pantry as soon as she heard it was available.
“When I first started using it, it made me a little nervous because I didn’t want to be the odd ball out and a student ‘needing’ and going elsewhere instead of going to my family,” Harmon said.
She eventually shared information about the pantry with her friends, who also started using it.
Students, faculty and staff can fill out their order online, choosing dairy, grain, protein and other items. Volunteers fill the order then send a text to indicate the order is ready. This website and design was created by Point Park students as part of a capstone project.
“We all go through the same struggles,” Harmon said. “People could have a full ride here but that doesn’t mean they have the necessities and they have those people and those family members who can help them outside of everything else. There’s athletes who are getting full rides but they come from backgrounds where they don’t have families to help them.”
Harmon says she likely would not have had nutritious foods to help her study, especially late at night, without Pioneer Pantry. It also made time away from home much easier.
“The Pioneer Pantry was a huge help. Thanksgiving, I didn’t go home and they had given us Thanksgiving stuff. We got stuffing and cranberry sauce,” Harmon explained.
“It really touches me that we have students, staff, faculty and even our administrators who all do regular shifts in the pantry and it just is really a testament to how our campus community has come together,” said Starr-Fiedler.
Pioneer Pantry volunteers will soon host “pop-up” produce events and hope to offer refrigerated and frozen foods in the near future. You can watch our video about the Pioneer Pantry below.
How we can help
The Food Bank is working with schools to erase the statistic of food insecurity on college campuses. We can eliminate food insecurity on these campuses and erase the stigma students feel in getting help. And we can ensure there is enough, so that no student feels like asking for help is taking something someone else needs.