UToledo Participates in National Study Tackling Food Insecurity on College Campuses

March 25, 2021 | News, UToday, Student Affairs
By Christine Billau

More than 3,500 students have used the food pantries on Main Campus and Health Science Campus at The University of Toledo in the last seven months.

The University’s programs to help students access free healthy meals and alleviate food insecurity informed a new national study by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU).

The report examined the magnitude of the pandemic’s impact on food insecurity on college students and outlined steps institutions can take to better address food insecurity.

“Over the years, food insecurity has continued to increase. Thirty percent of college students have experienced worry over where they’ll find their next meal,” said Dr. Sammy Spann, associate vice president and dean of students at UToledo. “The coronavirus pandemic significantly exacerbated the issue. Food and nutrition are basic student needs. College life, mental health, financial and overall well-being can all be addressed through tackling food insecurity.”

Other institutions that participated in the project are the University at Albany, Morgan State University, University of New Orleans and the University of Washington-Tacoma. The report’s findings are based on interviews, focus groups and surveys of nearly 300 students, faculty and staff from March to December 2020.

“It’s not hard to see that a student struggling with food insecurity is also a student who can’t focus as well on their studies,” said Christel Perkins, deputy executive director of USU and assistant vice president at APLU. “Today’s report underlines the magnitude of the challenge and the urgency of addressing it. Building on insights from leading campuses, the report also outlines concrete steps institutions can take to better serve students’ basic needs.”

The report provides action steps to address the challenge, including:
•   Increasing awareness about food insecurity on campus to destigmatize seeking help;
•   Elevating the historical and societal root causes of food insecurity;
•   Demystifying who the typical food-insecure student is;
•   Inculcating a campus expectation for everyone to play a role in addressing food insecurity;
•   Assessing the impact of food insecurity on student success;
•   Partnering with community stakeholders to address the issue;
•   Advancing a comprehensive food security strategy that considers nutrition and food preparation education;
•   Providing integrated student support for basic needs; and
•   Advancing public policy alleviating the issue.

After the pandemic hit, universities turned to partners, new and old, to help mitigate food access barriers for campus stakeholders. Securing off-site pick-up of pre-bagged pantry items at local organizations, partnering with community banks to fund meal provision and organizing food drives in partnership with local churches are just a few examples of what participating universities accomplished in the first months following the pandemic-induced campus depopulation.

According to the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, 41% of college students at two- and four-year institutions experienced food insecurity within the preceding month. A separate survey found Black and Latinx households reported experiencing food insecurity at higher rates than white households (41% and 37%, respectively; compared to 23%) between April and June 2020.

The Kresge Foundation funded the project.

“We hope the stories and experiences students shared through this research inspire more universities to take action,” said Joselin Cisneros, education fellow at the Kresge Foundation. “It’s clear that many students, especially since COVID, are not able to nourish themselves in adequate ways. The nine targeted actions outlined in this report can encourage more institutions to be intentional about the ways they are responding to students’ holistic needs.”

All current UToledo students, staff and faculty are eligible to use the food pantries.

Visit the UToledo Student Advocacy and Support website to learn how UToledo food pantries provide food aid to Rockets in need.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, UToledo launched the Rocket Fuel program, a collaboration between the Food Recovery Network, the Division of Student Affairs, University Dining Services and the Student Food Pantry to reduce food waste and food insecurity at UToledo.

Rocket Fuel packages food for the food pantry after major events and provides meal alerts to students who opt in when there is food available on campus.

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