Hungry at college

It’s not a ramen joke. It’s very serious, and impacts student learning

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 11/9/21

LOCH SHELDRAKE, NY — “During the 2020 spring and fall semesters, we surveyed our students to see how they were doing” in the pandemic, said Debra Waller-Frederick, associate dean of …

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Hungry at college

It’s not a ramen joke. It’s very serious, and impacts student learning

Posted

LOCH SHELDRAKE, NY — “During the 2020 spring and fall semesters, we surveyed our students to see how they were doing” in the pandemic, said Debra Waller-Frederick, associate dean of student engagement at SUNY Sullivan. “One major issue that was repeated over and over was food insecurity. So in the spring of 2021, we decided to drastically expand our [food] pantry.”

We’re used to worrying about the unemployed, the kids and seniors in the pandemic. But college students too?

Absolutely.

Some of the need is more benign. Kids eat a lot. (Just ask a pizza delivery service near a college.) The regular dining program is available to all students, Waller-Frederick said. Those who live on campus have a meal plan with two or three meals a day, but sometimes, especially with athletes, that’s not enough.

But the real need, the real challenge, is socioeconomic. “Community college students receive higher levels of federal aid,” she said. “So it is the reason that our students, who are mostly commuter students without a meal plan, struggle with food sources. The commuter students use the dining hall, but not as frequently as the residential students.”

And it’s those students who are in danger of going hungry. In 2019—before the pandemic—a survey by Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice found that 45 percent of student respondents from over 100 institutions said they had been food insecure in the past 30 days.

Students who lacked food were 43 percent less likely to graduate, according to research from Johns Hopkins in 2021. Their grade point averages are “significantly lower,” compared to food-secure peers, according to a 2018 study in the Journal of Public Affairs.

“Oftentimes, community college students are also just one emergency away from having to drop out—a bigger than expected heating bill, a car repair, a sick family member,” Waller-Frederick said. “As we’ve all seen at the checkout line, the cost of groceries has skyrocketed and the cost of gas is only contributing to our students’ worries.”

There had been a smaller, self-sustained food pantry at the college in the past, she said. It relied on donations. But “as a long-term effort, we knew that could not be sustained.”

Waller-Frederick had experience with college food pantries; she worked at SUNY Ulster and helped create theirs. “So I used the same framework to expand our pantry.” It offers food, toiletries, and weekly fresh vegetables from the college’s community garden and from Hope Farm, located on the campus.

The SUNY system, Waller-Frederick said, has been very supportive of food pantries. Revs. Diana Scheide and Jean-Pierre Seguin from the Delaware Catskill Episcopal Ministry “have been at our side since the beginning,” and funding from the Ulster Savings Charitable Foundation helped enormously, she said. Other funds were received from the Community Foundation of Orange and Sullivan, Research Foundation for SUNY, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Sullivan County, SUNY Sullivan Community Garden, and St. John’s Caring Hands Food Pantry-Monticello, and college staff.

“The Delaware Catskill Ministry—a collaboration of four Episcopal churches in the Sullivan/Orange County region [St James, Callicoon; St Andrew’s, Fallsburg; St John’s Monticello; and Grace Church Port Jervis]—is excited to come together with SUNY Sullivan and Episcopal Campus Ministries to rejuvenate the campus food pantry,” Scheide said at October’s ribbon-cutting. “We believe that when community comes together, we can do more than we can ever do alone. We know that every little bit helps, and we hope that our presence will enhance the community; helping students, faculty, and staff live healthy, happier lives.”

The pantry, said college president Jay Quaintance at the November 4 government services committee meeting, “has proven to be really outstanding. It was heartbreaking to me that we need to have a food pantry that is as large and stocked as that is… but the need is there and we’re very happy to be able to provide that.”

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