According to a recent article by the Association of American Medical Colleges there may be as many as 54 million people in America now facing food insecurity during the pandemic. This number has increased significantly in recent months, and news stories regarding long lines at food pantries have become more prevalent. Amidst this group, many may be surprised to learn that college students account for an increasing number of those who face food insecurity – as many as 1 in 5 according to the College and University Food Bank Alliance (CUFBA). College food pantries were already seeing significant increases in demand before the pandemic, but now most of them are challenged with decreased donations and finding ways to provide reliable and safe access to their on-campus pantries.
Effect of Reduced Student Population Density on Donations and How to Help
With many students now learning remotely, they have less access to campus resources like food pantries. Remote learning and the reduction in the number of students going to campus, has also impacted donations to food banks in college communities. These communities rely on annual philanthropic food drives lead by student organizations this time of year. Residence halls and Greek houses play an important part in stocking up local food banks through donation programs centered around move-out in December. With residence halls and Greek houses sitting well below capacity, or empty, and community activities limited due to COVID, the prospect of a significant reduction in food donations for many college towns is real.
Thankfully, universities and their corporate partners can help fill this gap. Faculty and staff can step into this potential void and support their local food banks through individual donations and collective food drives. While there is some legitimate concern about the spread of COVID through group activities, food donations can be conducted safely.
Tips for Keeping Food Pantries Safe and Open
In March 2020, Swipe Hunger polled a variety of colleges and universities for practices to consider implementing at food pantries that keeps both volunteers and those in need safe. These tips include:
- Extended Hours – Offer extended hours and frequent pop up distributions, to reduce the number of people who visit the pantry at one time.
- Hygiene Protocols – Implement rules like hand washing before entering, keeping 6 feet apart, and having only 3 people in the pantry at once to maintain social distancing or have staff use a to-go window to distribute pre-packaged bags.
- Online Deliveries – Offer a food pantry ordering form for students to request groceries. Those that are in self-quarantine and unable to leave their home can request delivery.
- Alternative Distribution Sites – If your pantry is on-campus in a location that is closed down, find an alternate distribution site such as your campus police station or somewhere in the student union. If the student union closes, allow students to make appointments to schedule a time to pick up bags with nonperishable items.
- Grab and go Bags – Offer pre-packed bags to eliminate direct contact with food and between people who visit the pantry.
What We Can Do
Higher education has long been a leader on our most pressing social issues, lifting up those who are disadvantaged and in need of assistance. We are thankful for the opportunity to support our campus partners in raising awareness of the increased need to tackle food insecurity. We can all find ways to put our thankfulness into action and ensure everyone has enough food on the table this holiday season. We also encourage your campus to become a member of the College and University Food Bank Alliance, by going here to join.The College and University Food Bank Alliance is a network of over 700 college and university food pantries. Additionally, if your campus does not yet have a food pantry but you are interested in establishing one, the CUFBA offers a Getting Started Toolkit, offering everything you need to know to begin on your campus. You can download that toolkit here.
If you need help finding your local food bank, you can visit https://www.foodpantries.org/ to find the food pantry closest to you.