Fighting student hunger on two fronts

Fighting student hunger on two fronts

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As with many important challenges, overcoming this one may come down to information and action.

Rowan University students, faculty, administrators and staff took a two-prong approach to fighting student hunger April 11 – a midday food and supply drive dubbed “Stuff the Bus” to support the on-campus student food bank, and an afternoon discussion about the extent of student hunger and what can be done about it.

The SGA sponsored “Stuff the Bus” program, held on Meditation Walk at the Clock Tower, had an ambitious goal – enough non-perishable food items, toiletries, school supplies and feminine hygiene products to fill a small bus. All items raised were used to support the SHOP (Students Helping Other Profs), a Glassboro campus food pantry.

The drive comes on the heels of a recently-released study that found, on average, 36 percent of college students face food insecurity, a condition that, according to the USDA, ranges from “reduced quality, variety, or desirability” in one’s diet to disrupted eating patterns including missed meals or entire days without food.

Penny McPherson-Myers, associate vice president for Diversity and Organizational Effectiveness, said a Rowan study this year found that as many as 48 percent of students at the University experience some degree of food insecurity, a figure that some studies suggest may be truer to the situation on campuses nationwide.

“We know it’s an across-the-country issue,” McPherson-Myers said. “From county colleges to four-year schools, many students simply don’t have enough to eat.”

She said the rising cost of higher education certainly plays a factor, even at an institution such as Rowan, where President Ali Houshmand has committed to limiting any increase in the cost of undergraduate tuition to the rate of inflation or less.

Another growing concern, she said, is housing insecurity, an additional trend among college students in which some sleep when they can at friends’ homes, even overnight in their car.

“There isn’t a question of having enough housing,” McPherson-Myers said. “We have enough. The question is, can students afford to stay on campus? Sometimes, they cannot.”

Sophomore finance major and Student Government Association member Robert Emmanuel said he knows students who have experienced both food and housing insecurity.

“Rowan’s a terrific community and we have people from varied economic backgrounds, but sometimes all people can afford are tuition and books,” he said.

Studying the problem

In the afternoon of April 11, two members of the Student Hunger on Campus research team, McPherson-Myers and Dr. Robert Weaver, a professor in the department of Health & Exercise Science in the School of Health Professions, co-hosted a program dubbed Hunger on Campus that explored the problem and what can be done about it.

At Rowan, McPherson-Myers said, the issue of food insecurity was brought to the fore in 2016 when a survey by the Affordability Task Force found more than 100 students acknowledged they don’t always have enough to eat.

The Rowan study followed a 2016 nationwide survey that found as many as 48 percent of students experienced food insecurity over the previous 30 days.

Nationwide figures on food insecurity are roughly consistent with those reported at Rowan and some other New Jersey Schools, a pattern Weaver said suggests “the problem is not Rowan-specific but systemic.”

Importantly, he noted, food insecurity can have a profound effect on students including a lack of focus, emotional distress and diminished academic performance.

Second information session

The Student Hunger on Campus research team will host a second discussion on food insecurity on campus at 11 a.m. Wednesday in 204 Robinson Hall.

Help is available

Meanwhile, Rowan offers various emergency assistance programs to students including meals donated by Rowan’s official food provider, Gourmet Dining, McPherson-Myers said.

The SGA Stuff the Bus program, held in the fall and spring, provides an infusion of supplies for the SHOP but donations are needed all year long. Monetary donations may be made through the pantry’s web site and donors may drop off non-perishable food and sanitary items every Friday from 1:30 t0 4:30 p.m. Donations may also be made at the Chamberlain Student Center.

The SHOP is located in Building 5, Room 141, Rowan Boulevard Apartments (100 Redmond Avenue, Glassboro, N.J. 08028).