Addressing College Student Food Insecurity during a Pandemic

Many colleges in the United States have launched food pantries in order to combat the growing problem of food insecurity among college students. In fact, a recent study from Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab surveyed 43,000 students and found that 36% experienced food insecurity within the previous month. Given that the research shows that millions of college students are food insecure during normal operations, campus closures due to COVID-19 could leave these students without a way to put food on the table.

Within the Coalition, institutions have gotten creative in order to serve food insecure students who rely on campus food pantries. While campuses across the nation have shifted to remote learning due to COVID-19, off-campus students or students remaining in campus housing still need accessible sources of food.

Even though the University of Toledo campus is closed, the main food pantry remains open to students. In addition to the student worker, only one student is allowed to enter the food pantry at a time in order to accommodate social distancing requirements. Students can even pick up supplies curbside if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and are unable to enter the food pantry.

Some universities have opted to reduce the hours of their campus food pantries. The Jamil Niner Student Pantry at UNC-Charlotte is now open two afternoons per week and serves students on a pre-order basis only. Many other food pantries within USU are operating with reduced hours and offering pre-packaged meal kits for students on a pre-order basis. The University of Texas at San Antonio and Wayne State University are both offering pre-packaged meal kits during reduced hours, but do not require students to pre-order these kits prior to pick-up.

Due to local or state directives, it has not been possible for all campus food pantries to remain open. While some institutions have had to close their food pantries temporarily, several are directing students to community food banks on their websites.

Given that most of the resources and support systems upon which urban college students rely are now being delivered online, many universities continue to offer ways for food insecure students to receive the food they need. For those food pantries that have been forced to close their doors, partnerships with local food banks serve as an indicator of the rich partnerships that exist between urban-serving universities and their local communities.

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