Campus seeks solutions to hunger problem
February 13, 2019
Food insecurity is not something students often consider when looking at which college they will call home temporarily. Food insecurity on college campuses has become an apparent problem in recent years, including at UW-River Falls. Food insecurity is defined by the USDA as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.”
The university first began collecting data on this issue about two or three years back. A group of students had approached Health Services about doing a food shelf on campus. Assistant Director of Health Promotions Keven Syverson said, “We realized we had no data on the topic of food insecurity for our students. We do a National College Health assessment every three years, and a lot of our previous reports are online on the student health website. But this is the first time we’ve asked questions specifically around food insecurity, and the National College Health Assessment is adding this to their next revision round to their survey.”
Food insecurity has many causes, Syverson commented that a main issue is, “Disposable income, you have to choose between things. The choice is hard to make when you don’t have enough money for food. First year students are on the meal plan, however once you move into other years, it gets a little tricky.”
According to the Feeding America Organization 2018 data sheet, Pierce county has a food insecurity rate of 10 percent, and St. Croix county is at almost 8 percent. The poverty rate in St. Croix county is just below 6 percent, and doubles to 12 percent in Pierce County.
A survey conducted by UW-River Falls American College Health Association in 2018, found that 21 percent of UWRF students said they were often or sometimes worried their food would run out before they had money to buy more.
Hunger is a serious issue and has negative effects on students abilities to focus in class. UWRF has a high percentage of first year college students, as well as a lower median income compared to other universities in the UW-System.
CLASP, a national, anti-poverty nonprofit that works to advance policy solutions for low income people, in their research found that,“First generation low-income students, [. . .] are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity. More than 56 percent of all first-generation students were food insecure, compared to 45 percent of students with at least one parent who had attended college.”
The UWRF campus explored solutions to the food insecurity issue. “We have a great food shelf just downtown on the northside of Main Street. And there’s a lot going into running a food shelf, so we took a look at what other campuses are doing around this issue,” Syverson continued.
The River Falls Community Food Pantry is available for anyone in the town of River Falls to use for food services, including UWRF students. Upon first visit, food shelf users must fill out an annual form of information for the pantry. Students must bring their UWRF student IDs each time they go to the food pantry in order to receive anywhere from 2 to 4 grocery bags of food.
Syverson said, “In the community you can go to the food shelf once a month, but students can now go twice a month. We also have a taxi service to bring students to the food shelf. Their hours are on their website.”
“For a while we had no students showing up to the food pantry for about a year, mainly because they did not know about us,” said Executive Director of the River Falls Community Food Pantry Candice Anderson. “Right around August [or] September we started seeing students coming through again, and now have around 10 students coming to the pantry each month.”
The River Falls Community Food Pantry is located on the corner of Main Street and Pine Street next to Bo Jons Flowers and Gifts.
Health Services has also worked with student organizations who have done food collection and donations to the food shelf.
Other community resources available to students are programs such as Fare For All. Fare For All, according to their website,“is a great way to save money on quality, nutritious food. We buy fresh fruits, vegetables, and frozen meat in bulk to save you up to 40 percent off grocery store prices.”
Sue Boettcher of Chartwells brought the Fare For All program to the River Falls community.
The Foodshare, as stated on their website, “[Is]often referred to as food stamps, [it] is a benefit that can help pay for groceries until you get back on your feet.”
Students can check their eligibility by calling the FoodShare Helpline at 1-877-366-3635, or by filling out the Contact Us form located on their website, www.GetQuestCard.org. The card can then be used to purchase groceries.
Though the university has implemented many positive options for students, more can always be done. There is a program available called Swipe Out Hunger, which according to CLASP.org, “is a student organization enabling students to use their extra meal swipes to purchase meals for the homeless. In 2016,Swipe Out Hunger changed its focus to address campus hunger, establishing 30 chapters across the country.”
This is a great option for campus, since many students don’t use all their meals, guest meals or dining dollars, they can now donate those extra things to students in need.
Another potential solution could be a community garden in the spring, summer and early fall. Students and community members could designate a small plot of land for the garden, and food grown could be made available to students at a low cost. The university could designate land to be used for this.
Lastly, student organizations are always encouraged to hold food drives and collect donations for the local food pantry.