Helping Others Get The Scoop:Addressing Food Insecurity on Campus

by Christine Nappi, Features Editor

For many, access to food isn’t a problem and can often be taken for granted. However, it’s not like that for all — some, especially college students, struggle to put food on their plate and wonder what their next meal will be. Food insecurity is present across all college campuses, and Manhattan College isn’t excluded from this problem, which is why the Food Insecurity Committee is working to help those Jaspers in need. 

The Food Insecurity Committee is a team of faculty members dedicated to addressing this problem on campus through various initiatives to help those who may feel food insecure. Although there is no exact number of Jaspers who struggle with this, national data indicates the problem is prevalent at MC. In a statistic provided by Sean Ames, the general manager of Aramark at MC, 45 percent of college students were insecure in 2019, according to the Hope Center for College Community and Justice, a research center focused on higher education and social policies. Additionally, as of April 2020, 22 to 38 percent of households are food insecure, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. 

Hayden Greene, director of multicultural affairs and member of the Food Insecurity Committee, described how this problem is important to address on MC’s campus, specifically in regard to the college’s Lasallian values. 

“Food insecurity is a problem for any campus [and] I think that it’s even more impactful for a Lasallian institution, because we have these five tenants that talk about social justice and concern for the poor as two of those five,” Greene said. “I think that as a Lasallian institution that’s even more impactful that we are concerned with food insecurities among our students.”

To address the problem of food insecurity, the committee has implemented various programs to support Jaspers in need, such as creating an open food pantry, starting the Swipe out Hunger MC campaign and implementing the Food Rescue program. The Swipe Out Hunger campaign is a program where fellow Jaspers can donate their dining dollars and meal swipes to students in need in an effort to “swipe out” hunger on campus. The Food Rescue program, the most successful program, advertises campus events that will serve food in an effort to cut down on food waste, increase event attendance and to ultimately provide free meals to those struggling with food insecurity. 

However, with restrictions and concerns brought on from COVID-19, the food pantry and Food Rescue program haven’t been able to continue this semester. The Swipe Out Hunger campaign will be able to continue amid restrictions and the committee plans to relaunch it this semester, as COVID-19 has strengthened the severity of this problem. 

Marilyn Carter, director of community services and outreach and committee member, described how COVID-19 has made this problem worse for many. 

 “It is a growing issue and given the economy that we are in right now [and with] COVID seem[ing] to be increasing instead of decreasing, we’re going to see a lot of families of students who are out of work, and are going to need as much assistance as they possibly get,” Carter said. 

In addition to COVID-19, the college’s switch to the food provider Aramark has slowed the committee’s efforts in solving food insecurity on campus. Despite time restraints, Carter ensures that the committee will stop at nothing to develop a comprehensive plan with Aramark to address this problem. Aramark is looking to provide solutions to this problem for the community, and is in the process of collaborating with the committee in order to do so. 

“In support of our commitment to create a positive impact on people and the planet, we are addressing food insecurity from several angles including effective operational and food management practices, minimizing surplus food waste, building strategic partnerships, leading food recovery efforts and fostering collaborative dialogue,” Ames wrote in an email. “Along the way, we also engage and educate our consumers, provide community support and seek strategic collaborations with community nonprofits and leaders in the food insecurity solutions space.” 

In recent years, the awareness of food insecurity on college campuses has increased. Carter describes that on the surface it may not seem like college students struggle with this problem, yet they do. The lack of awareness emphasizes the need to increase knowledge on the issue. 

“It’s a growing problem across college campuses and now that we’re hit with COVID it’s a problem, of course,” Carter said. “ [Many people] figure, well if you can afford the tuition to go to school, and the books, then why are you hungry for a meal. And so the truth of the matter is, a lot of people are out there, just trying to make it to pay that tuition, to keep food on the table.” 

According to Greene, addressing the problem of food insecurity on campus is not only important to solve hunger issues, but it’s also important to students’ education. As he describes, the added stressor of food insecurity limits students’ abilities to learn new concepts and get the education they’re looking for.

“Your educational experience is enriched by having a full class of engaged students, and if some of your students are not able to engage because they’re worried about where their next meal is coming from, or they’re not able to concentrate because hunger pains are distracting them, then you’re getting a less engaged community and that doesn’t help for your educational endeavors,” Greene said. 

Lois Harr, an assistant vice president of student life, the director of campus ministry and social action and Food Insecurity Committee member, finds raising awareness to be a crucial first step in making the community responsive to this need. She finds the campus to be responsive to the need thus far, but hopes to increase engagement on the issue. 

“I think the campus is very responsive and caring,” Harr said. “It’s really that people need to know if they don’t know [because] then it’s hard to be responsive, so that’s most important.” 

Ames also emphasizes the importance of increasing awareness among the student body and campus community at large. He notes that this problem requires collaboration amongst many and involves more action than simply providing food. 

“Food insecurity is a complex issue requiring a deep engagement with many stakeholders,” Ames wrote. “Effective paths forward need to not only provide food to those that need it most, but must also address the factors tied to the availability of appropriate resources. We are committed to collaborating with all relevant stakeholders to develop and support a customized plan to address the needs of individuals, families and students.”  

Harr describes that in order to motivate the various stakeholders, fellow Jaspers and the community at large to address this need, they need to sympathize and embrace the Lasallian values MC prides itself on. 

“Motivation [to help] comes from having your heart and your head affected by something,” Harr said. “Getting students to feel for it, feel that as a caring campus community we should help each other. We have the five points on the same star and one is human dignity and inclusive community and care for one another.” 

Greene finds that MC’s identity as a Lasallian institution should inspire the community to take part in addressing the issue. He describes that helping others is a quintessential quality of being a Jasper, and working to solve food insecurity on campus is one way students can reflect that quality. 

“We are a Lasallian organization and if we are talking about care for our community and social justice, [food insecurity] is part and parcel of that,” Greene said. “Making sure that there’s an understanding that this is who we are, this is the kind of campus that you go to school in. That’s what Lasallian education is about. It’s caring for your community and caring for the entire community whether they are well off or whether they’re barely making it, and that’s that’s the point of being a Jasper.”