Starving college student. We've probably all used that phrase. It conjures up stereotypical images of a young man or woman making ramen noodles over a hotplate. The thought makes us smile.
For some, the phrase is not a stereotype. Nor is it something to smile about. Based on school and location, food insecurity rates on college and university campuses are estimated to range from 10% to 40%.
Food pantries on or near universities and colleges serve a forgotten population. They are frequented by students truly struggling with food insecurity.
The "starving college student" stereotype includes the assumption that young people spend their money on pizza and weekend parties. "That's not what we see at all," says Terri Thede, Food Logistics Coordinator of the School Street Food Pantry in Normal, Illinois. "These students are making serious choices, looking at all of their options."
Being a student with a valid student ID is the only requirement to receive food from the School Street Food Pantry. Acceptable institutions include all local colleges and universities, as well as trade schools.
Students receiving food are very appreciative, reports Terri. She's heard accounts of people having to make choices between textbooks and class supplies or eating properly. They are especially thankful for healthier options.
Students are also instrumental in the pantry's operations. For every board position, there is a mirrored student position. Helping peers struggling with food insecurity is something students can get behind. In addition to volunteering, food drives are popular among student groups, as well as university employees.
Emily Shupe, Associate Professor of Dietetics and Nutrition, surveyed the students at Western Illinois University in Macomb to learn more about campus food insecurity. She found that 50% of the respondents had lost weight or skipped meals due to lack of food. Twenty percent reported food insecurity had caused their grades to suffer.
The Pantry at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois, also serves college students. In fact, the students serve the students. The Pantry is run by students. They handle staffing (with help from Google Calendar), food ordering, and managing and rotating stock. A student came up with a proposal to go paperless and made it happen with iPads purchased with donated money.
"We have found there is less stigma visiting a food pantry when students are helping other students, says Emily, Director of The Pantry at WIU. "Students are practicing what they learn in their classrooms and are seeing real-life applications. It is inspiring to see."
The Pantry began in a very small room, but has expanded into two. A cooler and freezer have been purchased to help with nutritious produce, dairy, and protein foods. The Pantry networks with other charitable food sources to share donated foods and best serve their clients.
"We've had recipients cry and say, 'I can really HAVE this food?'" says Emily. "Then they want to volunteer to help others."
The School Street Food Pantry serves over 100 students weekly. It's open each Friday from 4-6 p.m. About 70% of their food comes from Midwest Food Bank.
"One client was a foreign student who has since returned to Algeria," says Terri. "He came for food but also needed to interact with people and see smiling faces."
The Pantry at WIU serves up to 150 people each week. It is open Thursday from noon to 5 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. Campus police have the keys to The Pantry in case of emergency food needs. The Pantry puts food out on a table in front each day and it is always gone.
"Midwest Food Bank has been there since day one, playing an incredible role," says Emily. "Opening the boxes of food from MFB is like Christmas Day."
Midwest Food Bank provides food for pantries serving college students from our US locations. We're thankful for nonprofit partners like the School Street Food Pantry and The Pantry at WIU. With passion, they serve a special population of food-insecure people. MFB is only able to provide them food through the generosity of our donors. To donate, click here.