Scaling Our Food Insecurity Approach: Thoughts from University of Toledo

By Sammy Spann, Associate Vice President and Dean of Students, University of Toledo

Students, faculty, and staff realized the sustainable need for food on campus. The University of Toledo previously partnered with Toledo Campus Ministry to offer a food pantry at its location just off campus that served students by appointment. The pantry opened in 2014 in a converted basement room.  About 160 students used it from October of 2014 to December of 2015.  In 2016, the opportunity arose to move the food pantry on campus. Today we have over 3500 students using it during the course of the year. In 2019, an additional food pantry was opened on the Health Science Campus to serve those students needs as well.

The COG allowed us to be more intentional in our need to address food insecurities. By partnering with our food service provider, we were able to feed more students and recover food that would have otherwise been wasted. Our “Meal Recovery Program” sends a text alert to students to inform them when there is leftover food on campus. We would also hold pop-ups throughout campus handing out snacks throughout the week.

To better anticipate the needs of our current students, we hosted student and staff focus groups to hear their voices and identify barriers to food insecurities and access to basic needs resources. We were surprised to learn how often students struggle with school/life balance and feeling extremely isolated during the pandemic. Though not a requirement of their job, our faculty and staff put snacks in their office for students informing us just how aware they are of student food insecurities.

Unfortunately, there is a stigma behind food pantries. We renamed ours “Rocket Fuel” to help destigmatize and make it a more engaging experience for our students. Since transportation is an issue for some students, we are discussing a delivery service. This not only helps students with transportation issued but also creates job opportunities for other students. As we look to the future, we envision a hub for not only food but for basic needs. As more campus members talk about it, it will become a cultural norm.

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