College: Home to a Hidden Hunger

Dining halls, overflowing trays and the “Freshman 15” might come to mind when thinking about college food.

But for many students it’s the opposite. They are food insecure.

A 2015 University of Wisconsin survey of 4,000 students at 10 community colleges across the U.S. found that students often face hunger. One in five respondents said they experience low food security, while another 22 percent said they cut the size of their meals or skipped meals because of their financial struggles.

People don’t usually think about college hunger, but it’s a reality. In our 2014 Hunger Study, we found that 35 percent of New Jerseyans we serve choose between food and education.
And students don’t usually qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) benefits due to the work requirement.

Campuses across the country are addressing this lack of food security by opening pantries to serve students, and even faculty and staff. For one, Montclair State University (MSU) launched its on-campus food pantry on April 18 in response to students running out of meal-plan points and becoming food insecure.

A schoolwide survey found that out of 175 respondents, half need or know someone who needs food, said Fatima DeCarvalho, MSU Associate Dean of Students.

The MSU pantry plans to expand to offer more than just food; the hope is to provide other needs, including toiletries and warm winter coats.

Patrice, a senior English major, walked through the doors on day one looking for healthy non-perishables. She told us the pantry will help those struggling to make ends meet.

“I know that sometimes I’m running a little low, so it would be good to have extra resources,” she added.

Although Patrice plans to visit the pantry to supplement her other food sources, she knows there are students who have a greater need and might depend on the on-campus site.

Another student said the pantry is “a very good opportunity for students” who need help.

The summer remains a tough time for food insecure college students, which is why MSU’s pantry plans to open at least once a month before the academic year begins.

Other New Jersey colleges have food pantries, including Bergen Community College and Rutgers University. Here and nationwide, college campuses are home to a hidden hunger and many are working to help their students.