College food insecurity

Claire Furlow, a volunteer for the Full Circle Food Pantry, stacks cans and prepares bags of food for students and staff in need of food assistance. Students in an honors course this semester are studying food insecurity on the UA campus.

 

The UofA has partnered with seven other in-state colleges to conduct a survey and determine the number of students facing food insecurity on campuses in Arkansas.

Jennie Popp, associate dean of the UA Honors College, is teaching a research-based honors course this semester focused on addressing food insecurity in college. The class’ students administered a campus-wide survey as part of the statewide effort to identify school-specific needs and help students access nutritious food.

Popp met with Gov. Asa Hutchinson at the end of 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, and made it clear that members of the Honors College wanted to help address the state’s needs, she said.

“We decided this year as a group, the first thing we were going to tackle would be food insecurity,” Popp said. “Sadly, the reason we chose that is because it’s a statewide problem and everybody could contribute in their own way.”

The new survey serves as a follow-up to a 2015 Volunteer Action Center survey, to which 38% of UA student respondents said they had struggled with food insecurity. While 54% of respondents knew about the Full Circle Food Pantry, the UofA’s on-campus food pantry, only 2% had utilized it, according to the 2016 Student Food Insecurity Survey Report.

Julianna Kantner, a junior, is enrolled in the course and loves having the opportunity to participate in a research project like this, she said.

“What we really want to do is analyze the survey results and then with that information, approach the state government and local government about the different gaps that we saw in terms of student needs in our community,” Kantner said.

The students in the course will determine what outreach they need to do based on the survey results. Once the numbers are in, the students can explore ways the university and state government can help improve resources in Northwest Arkansas, she said.

Based upon the early results of the new survey, Popp is surprised by how many students, food insecure or not, are still unaware there is a food pantry on campus, and she wants to work to make it more well-known, she said.

“I think the more that we talk about it and the more that we put it out in the open, like it’s an accessible thing to go after assistance, the more likely people are going to actually then ask for help,” Popp said.

Students in the course collaborated and used the connections they had within the UofA to get as many survey responses as possible, Kantner said.

“With the survey, people would indicate if they want to know more,” she said. “So, we definitely plan on reaching back out to the people that indicated that they want to know more. We will definitely have that level of outreach, which will be super helpful for sure.”

Raven Beck, a senior, said she did not know Full Circle existed until one of her friends who volunteered there told her about it in 2019. Beck said she only used the pantry once because she was embarrassed about going there and felt the stigma surrounding food insecurity outweighed her need for food.

“Even though people know that it’s there, they’re just too embarrassed to go there,” Beck said. “I guess they wouldn’t want their friends or their classmates to know that they’re that low, down to where they would have to use it, and that’s exactly why I only did it one time.”

Briana Roden, chair of the Full Circle Food Pantry, said she plans on working with Associated Student Government to require that professors include a section in their syllabi about the pantry. Roden said it is important to her that every person who uses the food pantry feels welcome enough to come back a second time.

“We really strive to create a welcoming environment so that our clients don’t feel like charity and they aren’t made to feel less than others just because they can’t necessarily provide for themselves or their families as well as others can,” Roden said. “We try to do that by just having conversations with our clients while they’re waiting for food, asking them how they’re doing and not just treating them like another person in line at a soup kitchen.”

Even though the food pantry board members are doing everything they can to create a welcoming environment, Beck said the negative stigma around food insecurity can be too strong to allow students to feel totally comfortable using the resources provided.

“I just think that it needs to be talked about more and put into a perspective that a lot of college kids actually experience (food insecurity) and there’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” Beck said.

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