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18% of College Students Suffer Hunger

WASHINGTON- Breigh Pierce is a 23-year-old former student of Old Dominion University (ODU). She struggled with maintaining the funds necessary to feed herself and remain functional in the college setting.

“My first semester at ODU was very challenging because no one told me where to go to get financial support, no one told me where I could go to eat or what meal plan or programs were available for me, a student using financial aid to get a higher education. As a result, I went without eating for many days. My GPA dropped to a 1.7, and I found it hard to concentrate in class,” Pierce said.

Pierce’s situation was not limited to a select few. She knew of many other students who suffered from hunger as she did. She refused to socialize due to the “embarrassment” of not having the proper funding or nutrition to support herself.

“We were seeing some data showing how serious a problem food insecurity is on college campuses,” Legislative Aide to Rep. Judy Chu D-CA, David Silberberg said.

On March 13, 2019, Rep. Judy Chu D-CA presented a bill to the House of Representatives. The College Hunger Reduction Act of 2019. Hunger among college campuses is a national crisis. Of the 3.3 million students eligible for the supplemental nutrition program, 2 million students reported not receiving any benefits. The lack of proper terminology makes it challenging to understand the severity of the crisis. Congress and other government agencies refer to hunger as “food insecurity.”

Congress stalled a bill intended to aid hunger crisis for college students. On June 14, 2018, The College Hunger Reduction Act of 2018, became stalled. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report which said that more than 18 percent of all U.S. college and University student suffer from hunger.

The purpose of The College Hunger Reduction Act of 2019 is how it would make institutions of higher education eligible for Community Food Project grants (CFP).

“CFP grants are awarded by the Department of Agriculture and are intended to help recipients start or expand self-sustaining anti-hunger programs,” Silberberg said.

Congress had received reports from the GAO confirming a rise in hunger among college students. The GAO’s surveys show “food insecurity” affects students throughout the college spectrum from Ivy League to public, private and two-year universities. The frequency of affected students shows from all ethnic backgrounds and economic standing with the majority of those affected being in the low-income range.

Hunger is not the only threat a student faces. The GAO report did not address the issue of nutrition. However, Hunger causes health complications and endangers many students life according to the Mayo Clinic. Consequences of hunger include depression and anxiety, which Pierce stated she suffered from during the first semester. Social and relationship related problem may also occur due to poor nutrition.

“Food insecurity is positively associated with obesity. Those who struggle to procure food must make undesirable nutritional decisions, be it subsisting on cases of Chef Boyardee or gorging on Taco Bell’s late-night dollar menu. The most affordable dining options are almost always the least nutritious.” Head contributor at The Best, David Tomar said in an article for The Quad Magazine.

Many college campuses try to address the rise in hunger among college students by providing food pantries on campus. These pantries depend on donations and funds from advertising to inform students about food availability.

Donations typically come in the form of canned goods and dry products which often have a longer shelf life. These products void hunger but do not address nutrition. Demand for emergency food assistance increased at a rate ranging from 28.6% to 37.7% according to Feeding America’s Hungry: The Facts. However, the lack of fresh foods available within the pantry’s undesirable to many students.

“Food is like a pharmaceutical compound that affects the brain.” Dr. Fernando Gómez-Pinilla, a UCLA professor of neurosurgery and physiological science, said in an interview at the UCLA Newsroom.

Students may be unaware of their university or college offering a food pantry, Gómez-Pinilla said, which leads to many students going hungry due to lack of knowledge for what is available on their campus.

“I was not made aware of any resources on campus like a food pantry when I began the semester. It was not until my second semester when an ODU mess hall employee caught me sneaking in to get a bite to eat, and she allowed me to continue eating. A student usually has around 300 to 400 meal swipes available. At home, my family lives on welfare, so I choose the cheapest meal plan, which consisted of 80 meal swipes, did not even last half the semester. I ended up stockpiling and rationing my food to survive,” Pierce said.

Students are willing to support their university and college food pantries. If universities and colleges did supply and distribute information on how to get involved with the local food pantry and how one could qualify, it would alleviate many hunger-related issues.

“I think ‘The Market’ should be more advertised because I have never heard of it and there are definitely things that my family would send me that I would donate. I probably wouldn’t use it because I wouldn’t need, and I want to leave it for people who do need it. I wish ‘The Market’ was more well-known.” American University (AU) sophomore and School of International Sciences (SIS) major, Riley Kivett said.

Ingredient freshness is what many students desire when considering their food options. Freshness is something college food pantries would be challenged to accommodate.

“If it’s not fast or frozen foods, its fresh ingredients which are harder to get due to it being expensive to buy fresh ingredients to cook a fresh meal, so I tend to eat more fast food. However, my roommate’s parents order Hello Fresh boxes two times every month, and so we will eat that together and bond over the cooking process.” University of Alabama (UA) senior, Tyler Jackson said.

Money has always remained a factor for many college and university students. The funding needed to eat and maintain a balanced and nutritious diet is a continuous struggle for many students on a budget.

“This finding is consistent with previous UC surveys conducted in 2012 and 2014, revealing that 26 percent of 150,000 undergraduates skipped meals to save money.” According to Former US Assistant Surgeon General; First Deputy Assistant Secretary for Women’s Health; Rear Admiral, USPHS (ret.); Senior Fellow, New America Foundation Susan Blumenthal, said in a report conducted by The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization advancing policy solutions for low-income people.

The College Hunger Reduction Act of 2019 is a bipartisan bill which might not be passed by Congress but has associations like Feeding America, Swipe Out Hunger, MAZON: The Jewish Response to Hunger, the College, and University Food Bank Alliance, the Food Recovery Network, and U.S. PIRG endorsing it. With these endorsements, there is a better possibility of the bill becoming a law which would help a nation of students maintain a stable dietary plan.

By Alex Fernandez