Being a “broke college student” is a well-known joke and a rite of passage for those in higher education, but the reality is many students struggle every day to meet their basic nutrition needs.
The University of New Hampshire (UNH) is taking steps to address food insecurity among its student population and the Seacoast area.
“I find it personally unacceptable that we have any students here at our beautiful campus, in this place that we all love, that are hungry,” said Joan Glutting, clinical professor of psychology and member of UNH’s Student Basic Needs Committee. “We have a student body that’s less likely to even realize that they’re struggling, and if they are they think, ‘Well maybe somebody else is struggling [more].’ We need to step forward towards the students rather than waiting for them to ask us.”
In a recent survey of 2,000 UNH students conducted last spring, 20% said they have skipped at least one meal because they couldn’t afford it, while 15% said they would use a food pantry if there was one on campus.
UNH has the Swipe It Forward program, which provides free meals at the dining halls, but Glutting explained the Basic Needs Committee felt it was important to have a program for commuters, graduate students, or anyone else who can’t access the dining halls. The pantry will also have baby food for students with families.
However, students with meal plans can still access the pantry. The only requirement is that students must sign-in (this can be done anonymously) and present a UNH ID.
“We’re aware that if we restrict [the pantry] to try and minimize people who could potentially abuse it, there’s no way that we wouldn’t turn away people that actually do need the resource,” explained Paul Young, an AmeriCorps VISTA worker brought to UNH through a federal/state partnership to help address food insecurity. Gutting and Young stressed the importance of all students having “nutritious, culturally sensitive (halal, kosher), diverse access to food.”
In April, Young helped launch the Food Repurposing Project, a partnership between UNH Dining Services and Gather, a Seacoast food pantry and distribution network based in Portsmouth. During the program’s pilot phase, volunteers from College of Life Sciences (COLSA), Dining Services and Gather met each week to prepare ready-to-eat meals from unused dining hall food and donated items to distribute to local food pantries. The team produced 200-300 meals per week. In addition to food redistribution, UNH has also donated food from its Woodman Research Farm to Gather and other pantries.
“We absolutely love the partnership,” said Gather’s Associate Executive Director Seneca Bernard. He explained that one of Gather’s biggest struggles is their lack of kitchen space since they don’t own their own building in Portsmouth, but now they have access to the facilities in UNH’s Barton Hall. Bernard also expressed excitement about building a relationship with UNH students.
“We knew that being able to partner and educate with students, them volunteering with us, but also learning skills that you’re going to need in real life like being able to prepare a meal, would be an awesome opportunity. A lot of UNH students were already coming all the way out to work to volunteer with us for the last many years,” he said.
The food in the UNH pantry will be supplied by UNH Dining Services, the New Hampshire Food Bank and Gather. The pantry will begin providing ready-to-eat meals with plans to expand to snacks and essentials. Young also hopes to introduce classes and resource counseling to help students take advantage of UNH’s other support programs.
“These students usually have two or three jobs, they’re good students too, and the reason they’re food insecure or homeless is not generally a situation of their own making,” said Gutting. “They are so much trying to stay here, and we need to realize they’re working hard. If we can help them get through this bump, then we’re all better off for it because [they’re] the future.”
The food pantry will open later this semester on the first floor of the Memorial Union Building (MUB). Details about the programs offered by the Basic Needs Committee can be found here.
Photo courtesy of Paul Young.