As food insecurity and homelessness among college students grow, the once parodied image of the starving student eating everything in sight ceases to be a laughing matter. Higher education for many is the pursuit of a better life. Along the journey toward that idealized destination, some students will face near-impossible hardships: surviving on one — if that — meal a day, finding a safe place to sleep each night and struggling to make it through each day until graduation. Without assistance, some will be forced to drop out.
Many colleges have taken steps to reach out to these at-risk students. Whether they are informing students about the application process for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), opening food pantries on campus or going through the necessary channels to be able to accept food stamps (or SNAP benefits) in their dining halls, colleges and universities nationwide have recognized the very real need many students are facing.
How can college stores make a difference?
It isn’t always possible to lower costs or host large giveaways, but your store can help at-risk students on campus by accepting SNAP benefits. Even if your campus has programs in place, giving students in need additional options will boost their ability to succeed.
UC Davis has made great strides in addressing food insecurity on its campus. The food pantry on the UC Davis campus can offer students up to three meals a day, the Aggie Meal Share provides meals and the Davis Community Meals Program provides free meals several times a week. However, the UC Davis Bookstores recognized that there was still more they could do.
In July of 2017, the UC Davis Bookstores began accepting SNAP benefits. The program took two years to implement, but the desire to help students kept them moving through the process. With no marketing, other than a sign in the store, they had 87 SNAP transactions in the first 11 days.
Lane Community College also recently started accepting food stamps in their store.
“We think it’s very important. We see where it’s been going. A lot of students come in and it’s their only means of eating in some cases,” Titan Store Director of Retail Services Tony Sanjume said. “Now that we’ve brought in the EBT card and food stamps, we’re going to think about adding products for students who have trouble going shopping elsewhere, so maybe bring in some more canned goods and things like packaged stuff.”
The University of Tennessee's Volshop helps to support their campus food pantry with food, health and beauty aid collections.
"At the University of Tennessee, every Friday is an opportunity for the faculty, staff and students to wear something orange to promote our school pride and athletics; our staff is allowed to wear jeans if they want. While discussing Big Orange Fridays, we thought, 'What if we could make it more meaningful?' We have a food pantry on campus called Smokey’s Pantry that offers free food to students in need. We decided our stores would do a food and health and beauty aid collection every Friday in conjunction with Big Orange Fridays," Director of the University of Tennessee’s Volshop Carol Miller Schaefer said.
"Every couple weeks we deliver the boxes we collected to Smokey’s Pantry, and they are very grateful to get that. I think that it has provided a good opportunity for awareness that there are students who don’t have food. It’s one of those things where you don’t even realize that there’s a problem. Our student employees have even said that’s a really good idea. They know people who are living in that situation. The collection helps tie together the reality many students face to what we do here in the store."
When campus communities come together to help the most at-risk students, they can make a big difference in their lives. It could be the difference between a student being able to stay in school or having to drop out.
“I just want to say thank you. I walked in and I felt terrified. I cried at how many options there are, and how much people must care to do this. Bless you all,” read a note left by one student at George Washington University’s food pantry according to Inside Higher Education.