The Rise of College Food Pantries

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When I was traveling the country doing focus groups on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, known as FoodShare in Wisconsin), it became very clear that people with only partial college have it really tough. They are often saddled with debt and having stopped their college course load, they don't have the degree to get the job that would help to get them out of debt. Partial college with debt is like an albatross dragging people from reaching their full potential. 

And as we are learning, the line between simply being the proverbial poor college student and being a someone with partial college is razor thin. 

Back in December, researchers at the Wisconsin HOPE lab at the University of Wisconsin Madison released the results of a study that suggested over half of community college students are food insecure. Many of these kids are just trying to improve themselves and get the skills necessary to move up the socioeconomic ladder:

In addition to the survey, Goldrick-Rab in an interview said that in related studies she conducted focus groups with students at other colleges and tracked 50 low-income students over six years. She found that two types of students struggle with food insecurity. The first group of students were in poverty before they began college; in their case, hunger and poverty is a preexisting condition. The second includes those who were in the lower-middle class before they started college and were forced by their higher-education expenses to deal with food insecurity for the first time.

Many college campuses have begun to address this issue by forming campus food pantries. And yet, as this Morning Edition story exposes, many of these campus efforts face the same challenges to distribute food as neighborhood food pantries, namely the shame and stigma that people experience in asking for help. 

At the same time, rules for college students to receive FoodShare can be confusing and convoluted. In general, students enrolled in a 4-year University are not eligible but students enrolled in 2-year tech schools, may be eligible. All students are eligible if they are:

  • Employed @ least 20 hrs per week
  • Self-employed @ least 20 hrs/week
  • Participating in work study
  • Responsible for a child under 6 yrs (2 parent household)
  • Responsible for a child over 6, but under 12, and if child care is unavailable (if there are 2 parents)
  • Responsible for a child under 12 (single parent household)
  • Physically or mentally unfit for employment
  • Enrolled in W-2 or receiving TANF

College students who may have low-incomes or come from families that may not be able to financially support them should be focused on their studies and papers so that they can get on the path to opportunity. They should not be worried about where their next meal is coming from. 


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