For some who choose to pursue their dreams of achieving a college education, worrying about grades is only one of the stressors they face. Hunger continues to be an issue in the United States and can sometimes be a major burden on college students. This burden can easily become an impediment to focusing on school and earning a degree, holding one back from reaching their goals. To help prevent this, the Southeastern Foundation established, and continues to fund, a Food Pantry to better serve those in need of this area of support—filling bellies as well as brains to help all students achieve success.
Many college students across the country deal with food insecurity, a state of not having a sufficient amount of affordable and nutritious food. Although reports vary, a 2016 study by The National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness estimates that close to half of college students in our country have struggled to afford meals. First-generation college students were found to be even more at risk, with 56 percent facing food insecurity.
This can result in much more than a rumbling stomach. The study also noted that food insecurity can be linked to an inability to buy a required textbook, missing a class, or even dropping a class altogether.
In addition to putting their education at risk, hunger also puts a student’s health in jeopardy. “Hunger and health are deeply connected,” claims Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization. “People who are food insecure are disproportionately affected by diet-sensitive chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and according to research, food insecurity is also linked to many adverse effects to overall health.”
Food insecurity can be temporary, such as when an illness or change in working hours means a student’s paycheck is less than usual. But for students who struggle to keep up with the cost of tuition and housing, it is an ongoing situation.
Where are these scenarios happening? Everywhere—even on our own campus. According to Tasha Cooper, a University Advancement employee who helped establish and manage the Food Pantry when it was operated by the Southeastern Foundation, a 2013 survey found that more than half of Southeastern students either knew someone who faced food insecurity or experienced the issue themselves.
No matter the circumstances, students who are focused on where their next meal is coming from cannot fully focus on school. To help students fight food insecurity, more than 500 universities across the nation have opened their own campus food pantries. The Southeastern Food Pantry was established in 2013 and has been a model for other Louisiana universities starting their own programs.
“The food pantry is an awesome resource for Southeastern Students,” said Marjorie Parker, coordinator for Southeastern’s Office of Multicultural and International Student Affairs (MISA) and interim director of the Office for Student Engagement. “We have hundreds of students who use the pantry throughout the year. Many students are silently fighting battles that we know nothing about, and it is great that we have a resource for them to go to if they need it.”
Now managed under MISA, the Food Pantry provides nonperishable food items and hygiene products to Southeastern students, who can visit once per week and choose up to 15 items. No personal information is necessary, and students only need to show their Southeastern ID to access the program.
Over the years, the Food Pantry has become more accessible and organized. It now has an email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) to help students who may want to learn more about the service or schedule an appointment. This has improved opportunity as well as comfort for students to take advantage of this important resource.
Each year since its inception, more students have utilized the service. As of publication, April 2019 was the busiest month for the Food Pantry yet, with almost 300 students acquiring over 2,000 items, according to MISA Graduate Assistant Johannes Verhaegh.
Many of the items that the students receive are a result of donations, and the uptick in use of the food pantry requires increased donations to keep items in stock. Most donations are received from Southeastern athletics and campus-based organization food drives, especially during the Thanksgiving season. But with hunger a concern throughout the year, personal and organizational donations, as well as help spreading the word about this on-campus resource, are always gratefully welcomed.
By providing food and much-needed items, no questions asked, the Southeastern Food Pantry is helping alleviate the burden of hunger for students—allowing them to better concentrate on their studies and remain on a path to success.
By Grace Butzman, Ashley Richardson, and Sheri Gibson