As tuition continues to increase at universities across the country, students may find themselves cutting back on essentials, such as food, to pay for college expenses.
Research from the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, shows that nearly one in four college students is food insecure, meaning students have limited or uncertain access to nutritionally adequate food.
Recognizing that hunger hinders students’ abilities to focus and perform well academically, members of the University of Oregon have organized Feed the Flock, a task force that finds ways to alleviate that insecurity for students. After the homecoming parade last Friday, the team hosted a pep rally to promote the initiatives and collect food donations.
“When we have students who are food secure, we know that they will do better in school,” said Jill Creighton, assistant dean of students. “When you know where your next meal is coming from, when you know where you’re going to sleep at night — those things help our students to exceed in the classroom.”
Food security initiatives, which former ASUO President Amy Schenk spearheaded last year, have grown this year to include five programs. These initiatives are a result of students, staff and faculty from departments all over campus allocating time and resources to the task force.
“Our main goal is alleviating food insecurity here on campus,” said Jade Menchaca, a senior at UO and food security program coordinator with the Student Sustainability Center. “But we’re also really trying to destigmatize feeling guilty or feeling embarrassed about receiving this aide because a lot of students are in the exact same boat.”
There are a few new initiatives this year — Ducks Feeding Ducks, Produce Drops and the Ducks Food Cache — in addition to the older initiatives that are continuing to change and expand: the Student Food Pantry and support signing up for Oregon’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
- Ducks Feeding Ducks: Students who sign up online can receive $10 in their Duck Buck ID cards within an hour of filling out an application if approved. The funds can only be used at food venues on campus that accept Duck Bucks. The money stays in the account for seven days before being transferred back into the general fund, and students can apply up to three times per term.
- Ducks Food Cache: Though the software is still in beta testing, Ducks Food Cache is an alert system that notifies students when a UO Catering event has leftover food. The system sends a text 15 minutes before the end of an event to students who have signed up. The Food Cache is set for a full-scale launch winter term.
- Produce Drop: Organized in partnership by the SSC and Food for Lane County, students who self-identify as below 200 percent of the poverty level can fill a bag of fresh produce for free. These drops happen at the EMU Amphitheater every second Tuesday of the month.
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Students can find help signing up for Oregon’s SNAP benefits at the SSC or Duck Nest. This year, the SSC plans to host more workshops to spread awareness and help more students access these resources.
- Student Food Pantry: Located off campus on the corner of Emerald Alley and 19th Avenue, the food pantry allows any student with a valid student ID card to fill a grocery bag for free. It operates from 4 to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
The programs are funded largely by President Michael Schill, who contributed about $87,000, along with $20,000 in proceeds donated from ASUO’s Street Faire last year and a contribution of $15,000 from Vice President for Finance and Administration Jamie Moffitt. Additionally, people can donate money to Ducks Feeding Ducks or the student crisis fund.
The new programs were funded as a one-year pilot, so to ensure that the programs can be funded again in the future, Feed the Flock must show that these programs are reaching students who need them most.
So far, the numbers are promising. At the first Produce Drop, held in October, 400 pounds of food was given away to roughly 80 people in 45 minutes. About 70 people have signed up to beta test the Ducks Food Cache, and the EMU Card Office has received just under 200 applications for Ducks Feeding Ducks.
“When we heard the numbers, we were really surprised, but of course we are happy about how many students have used the system,” said Ivan Chen, the ASUO external vice president who is involved in the task force. “But we are also really sad about how many students actually need these resources.”