By Gabriella DePinho, Editor-in-Chief
While some students may dislike the offerings of Locke’s Loft, they are probably highly unaware of how many students may wish they had the funds to eat there. Food insecurity – the inability to consistently obtain meals and nutritious food items – is a growing issue facing college students. Students may be scraping by to pay tuition so they may not have the funds to know when or where their next meal will come from. This insecurity is not a visible one, but there are ways for others to help.
After Richard Satterlee, vice president for student life, attended a conference where food insecurity was an issue that was discussed, he came back to campus and brought the issue to the attention of several administrators. Satterlee had them take a webinar by the Educational Advisory Board about a variety of insecurities that college students face but in the end, administrators agreed that food insecurity was the one they could try to tackle.
Members of this ad hoc food insecurity committee include, Charles Clency, the director of Residence Life, Marilyn Carter, the director of commuter affairs, and Lois Harr, assistant vice president and director of campus ministry and social action, as well as representation from the Dean of Students’ office and the Multicultural Center.
“This [issue] is impacting campuses all over the country, regarding [how] expensive college [is] today, but we wanted to make sure we were aware and looking into how this might be impacting students on our campus here at Manhattan College,” said Clency.
The first initiative the group came up with was #JaspersFoodShare. The hashtag allows people to share, over social media, when events or club meetings have left over food.
“So it was like, don’t let food go to waste – we just throw it away after a certain point – and also somebody, maybe, with a need can get a meal. That’s all good but that’s kind of like, well if you’re lucky enough to be around when we luckily happen to have some food left over, is that really a way to address food insecurity for people?” said Harr.
Another initiative that popped up last spring was one to create a mini food pantry in the Multicultural Center. Non-perishable food items were collected and then made available to students who may have needed them.
“I think we got off to a late start and marketing it and so on and so forth. So I had all this food and so we said okay, what are we going to do with it? We had this initiative going on, so what we ended up doing was last year, I did healthy snacks for finals week for commuters and we put out the bags [of groceries] and they went, they went immediately,” said Carter.
The newest initiative was just recently announced to students. Resident students received an email from Residence Life on Jan. 31, informing them of a new initiative to “Swipe Out Hunger at MC.” Resident students now have the option to donate any amount of Jasper and Dining Dollars to help out any other MC students who may be facing food insecurity.
As of right now, this program does not accept swipes into Locke’s Loft.
“Food Insecurity among college students is real, and a new report from Government Accountability Office (GAO) highlights the breadth of those affected. There are potentially millions of students at risk of being food insecure, which means students do not have access to nutritious, affordable food,” said Residence Life in the email.
The email also provided students with a link, http://www.tinyurl.com/SwipeOutHungerMC, where students could input their information and list what kind of donation they would like to make.
Notice of the new available pool of funds – which has seen several donations and was estimated to be over $500 by Harr – will be sent out to those who may need it.
“AJ [Goodman] is crafting a note that we would send to the commuter students – the thinking is, if you’re a resident student, you have to have some kind of meal plan. So one would think you might not be having a lot of food insecurity if you’re a resident student. The commuter student population – some of them have meal plans – but some of them, they might be more the students that we’re talking about in our community that have food insecurity,” said Harr.
Those who need the service will be able to submit their need through a web page. Funds will then be allocated on a case by case basis.
“What happens from here is that the Dean of Students is working on giving people who made need this service [access to it] because we think that folks’ confidentiality and conference should be private,” said Clency.
So far, some student reaction to the new initiative has been positive.
“I think it’s good. It solves – not solves – but seeks to solve a national problem. It’s an example of somewhere on this campus, getting to a problem and solving it as quick as they can, rather than going through loopholes. And I think if it works, even if we just help one person, it’s better,” said senior Rabea Ali.
However, not everyone is familiar with the issue which can make support from students hard to garner.
“Initially, I found it a bit surprising. It’s one of those things that I’ve never heard of being a problem before. You know, I’ve never had a friend or student here talk to me and say they can’t afford food here,” said junior student Alex Van Vollenhoven.
However, Van Vollenhoven believes a balance needs to be found between what are students’ responsibilities and the institution’s responsibilities.
“I think that I was [initially] responding to is more of an institutional problem with the entirety of colleges in the U.S., but the school is still as a whole, it still has that responsibility to reach out to the students directly and not rely on us to help each other,” said Van Vollenhoven. “The school in general should be more open about what kind of problems the campus is even facing before they try to take up these initiatives, you know, because, it’s one of the things you don’t hear about much.”
Ali feels the school has found a sufficient enough balance.
“I think that [believing the school should be more active in funding the cause] shouldn’t minimize other people’s efforts. I would also argue that Jasper food share, as a concept, is an institutional thing. Because it is different departments, different bodies, like chipping in, so in a way it is institutional. It’s just previously that money and that food wasn’t being used to its best efficiency,” said Ali.
The issue of food insecurity and the roles every person and body on Manhattan College’s campus play in solving it, is of concern to the school as a Lasallian institution. The issue of food insecurity brings four of five Lasallian core principles to the table: respect for all persons, concern for the poor and social justice, inclusive community and quality education.
In terms of quality education, it is known that hunger can impact a student’s ability to learn.
“I mean, food insecurity is not just giving someone food but it’s a whole concept. I mean it plays on the academics. If you’re sitting in class and you’re hungry, you know, you’re thinking about math, are you thinking about, okay, I gotta find some way to stop my stomach from growling,” said Carter.
The privacy of the website request for funding helps expand the inclusivity of the program for students in the community.
“When you have things where people have to physically go or ask, people just don’t feel very comfortable having to do that.This will be different because it’s all online. And it’s all like you do it to the emails and money will digitally be transferred from the fund to your card. So you go to the dining hall and you just swipe your card. It’s nothing distinguishing anybody from anybody else, so it just seemed more inclusive,” said Harr.
While this is the committee’s latest initiative in regards to the issue of food insecurity, the group of administrators are going to continue working to come up with new ideas to bridge the gap on this insecurity as the year goes on.
Regardless of Manhattan College’s status as a Lasallian institution, Carter believes the issue of food insecurity is one that students and administration should care about.
“I’m a human being. I think it’s the social worker in me, the teacher in me that I went to school for that, that reacts to the needs of other people. We are a Lasallian school, we’re here to help. That’s one [part] of the mission statement is to help others, to help mankind, so they sort of go hand in hand. We have a group of people who feel the same way and sort of think the same way, so we decided we’re going to do everything that we can try to make this work,” said Carter.