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Hungry on Campus: Are College Students the Hidden Face of Food Insecurity?

November 3, 2016

College kids, they say, are always hungry. But Alabama A&M University student Justin Franks noticed hunger went beyond the stereotypical late-night noodle cravings. A desk worker in his dorm, Franks noticed in September that several of his fellow students frequently went to bed hungry.

“They didn’t have any food,” Franks, 20, told ABC News. “The cafeteria here closes pretty early, and a lot of students here don’t have the money to go outside of campus to eat.”

So Franks decided to do something about it: he started a food pantry. He posted an appeal on Facebook, and offers to donate food and hygiene products poured in from campus groups. Soon, Franks had enough to fill an old mail room in the dorm where he lives. From 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. every day—hours when the cafeteria is typically closed—students in need can come to the room for assistance.

College students have become an unlikely face of food insecurity. According to a recent study from the University of Wisconsin, 20 percent of community college students, for instance, sometimes don’t know where their next meal is coming from, and Feeding America reports 10 percent of adults who visit food banks report being in college. That’s three million hungry American college students.

Where there aren’t enterprising and compassionate students like Franks, colleges and universities themselves are stepping in to combat the hunger pangs in the classroom. The College and University Food Bank Alliance (CUFBA) launched in 2012 and has assisted more than 200 colleges and universities in implementing their own food pantries.

Delaware State University added a food pantry this fall after surveying students last year and finding 57 percent reported being food insecure. At Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, an urban farm grows 130 varieties of crops, many of which are harvested and given away to members of its student body of 14,000 who skip meals to save dough.

And at prestigious George Washington University—which costs about $70,000 a year to attend—thousands of students sometimes go without eating so that they can save money to stay in school. This led the school to do something its leadership never thought would be necessary: it opened a food pantry on campus.

“We have gotten amazing notes back from students about how this has been a blessing to them and how this really has helped them focus on what they thought they could be able to do here,” said Tim Miller, GWU’s associate dean of students.

Thrive Market Offers Free Memberships to Students
Food insecurity on college campuses is the reason Thrive Market donates free memberships to students through Thrive Gives. (We also donate memberships to teachers, veterans, and low-income families, too!) College students can sign up for a free membership by visiting www.thrivegives.org/students.

Interested in joining your campus ambassador team and bringing Thrive Gives to your school? Contact Marsha Olson: marsha.olson@thrivemarket.com

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Steve Holt

Steve Holt's stories about food, nutrition and food politics are found at Civil Eats, TakePart.com, Boston Magazine, and elsewhere. He's been featured in the Best Food Writing anthology. Follow his tweets and Instagrams @thebostonwriter.

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