The SHOP: Campus resource center at Rowan addresses student hunger

The SHOP: Campus resource center at Rowan addresses student hunger

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University officials and students joined together for the ribbon-cutting for The SHOP (Students Helping Other Profs), a new campus resource center open to all matriculated Rowan students.

Imagine that you have no idea that someone in your family is going hungry.

For Rowan University students Rbrey Singleton and Daniel Cardona, that cuts to the heart of the reason for the establishment of The SHOP (Students Helping Other Profs), a new campus resource center that will provide food and personal care items to Rowan students.

The grand opening of The SHOP, located in Room 141 of Building 5 in the Rowan Boulevard Apartments, was held on Thursday, March 23. Singleton and Cardona joined with University officials, including President Ali A. Houshmand and Vice President for Student Life/Dean of Students Richard Jones, to cut the ribbon for The SHOP, which is open to all matriculated Rowan students.

“It’s hard to hear that someone in your family is hungry. Food insecurity is all around us. And it’s nameless and faceless,” says Cardona, president of the Student Government Association (SGA), which voted in February to provide $30,000 in start-up funds for The SHOP.

Additionally, Rowan’s Foundation Board thus far has raised $27,000 to support the initiative and, during the third annual #RowanGIVES Day, 45 donors contributed more than $1,600 for the project.

Until last spring, Singleton, Rowan’s alternate student trustee and an SGA senator, was unaware he was attending class with fellow students who had not eaten that day—or for days. Admittedly, he’s never been hungry.

“I had no idea food insecurity was an issue,” the sophomore political science major says.

An issue nationally

Turns out, food insecurity— the lack of reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food—is very real among students at Rowan and among college students across the nation.

According to the New Jersey Hunger Prevention Advisory Committee, national studies indicate that 20-30 percent of college students report spending some of the previous month hungry.  In 2012, 13 percent of New Jersey residents reported food insecurity.

In spring of 2016, in order to gain insights to challenges faced by students that impede their success  in the classroom, Rowan’s Affordability Task Force surveyed 6,000 students and asked them about a host of issues, including food insecurity, their ability to buy textbooks, the hours they work, and their housing and childcare situations.

Of the respondents, 51 percent stated that they had to cut the size of their meals—or skip a meal—during that semester at least once and sometimes 10 times or more. Furthermore, 44 percent of the respondents indicated they did not eat because they did not have enough food.

'It was crystal clear that everyone in SGA was on board'

The SGA took the matter to heart, gathering nearly 1,000 signatures—500-plus in a single day—for a petition in support of establishing a food pantry on campus.

“It was crystal clear that everyone in SGA was on board. We have students who are thinking, ‘I need to buy this book instead of having a cheeseburger,’” Cardona says.

“And that translates into a retention issue for the University. It leads to health issues for students,” adds Singleton, who serves on the Affordability Task Force.

Indeed, according to Penny McPherson-Myers, associate vice president for diversity and organizational effectiveness at Rowan, studies show that food insecurity rates among college students are more than double the national average. Students with food insecurity experience a lack of focus, concentration and energy, emotional distress, and often struggle academically, she notes.

McPherson-Myers led the Critical Services Sub-Committee, a subset of the Affordability Task Force, to look into how other colleges are addressing food insecurity on their campuses. Nationally, there are more than 300 food pantries on college campuses, including six in New Jersey. The SHOP joins resource centers at Rutgers University, Montclair State, Bergen County College, Seton Hall, and Caldwell University, according to McPherson-Myers.

In addition to providing non-perishable food items, such as rice, pasta, canned goods, cereal and soup,  The SHOP also offers students toothpaste, shampoo, soap and other hygiene products.

Fresh fruits and vegetables

Open Wednesdays from noon-4 p.m. and Fridays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., plus two Saturdays a month, The SHOP will provide students with the opportunity to visit Philabundance in Glassboro to receive fresh fruits and vegetables, according to McPherson-Myers. The SGA will donate its shuttle for the trips to the Philabundance center, which isn’t within walking distance to campus, she notes.

Other agencies are chipping in as well. Gourmet Dining, Rowan’s food provider, is offering cooking demonstrations to help students learn to use SHOP ingredients to make nutritious meals, while Culinary Ventures Vending, which stocks all Rowan vending machines, is donating 200 snack bags each month to The SHOP.

Glassboro’s Nuevos Comienzos Church also has provided pantry donations.

“Our goal is to not have one more day in which any Rowan student goes without food to eat,” McPherson-Myers says. “This will allow students to focus and concentrate on their studies. You can’t focus on your work if you’re not eating.”

Food insecurity affects students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, McPherson-Myers says.

“We do have students who do not have a place to live or sleep,” she says. “Some of them do not qualify for financial aid. It may appear that they don’t have a need. But they do.”

Cardona and Singleton are pleased—but not a bit surprised—by the support for The SHOP, particularly among students.

“Students at Rowan care about each other. This would not happen unless students were involved,” says Cardona.

“The culture of helping each other is ingrained here,” adds Singleton.  “There are so many prevailing factors as to why people are hungry. We want to make a positive impact.”