Nearly half of surveyed college students in America face food insecurity, according to the #RealCollege survey conducted by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice.
The Hope Center defines food insecurity as “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe food, or the ability to acquire such food in a socially acceptable manner.”
A survey conducted by Public Health professors Amanda Hickey and Dena Shields found that 36 percent of surveyed Keene State students suffered academically from hunger.
“Anecdotally, we had heard from students that there were issues with hunger on campus and we became interested from that aspect and wondered if that affected them academically,” Hickey said.
“We surveyed about 10 percent of the population here at Keene,” Shields said. “We did that by having student researchers go into classrooms and have students answer some questions.”
The survey conducted by Hickey and Shields focused more on self-perceived hunger rather than on food insecurity.
“If a student perceives themselves as hungry, does it affect their academic performance? Also, we looked at a subset of athletes and how it affected their athletic performance,” Hickey said.
In an effort to help reduce food insecurity at Keene State, a hunger and homelessness task force was started. Students provide input on this task force as well as representatives from different offices. Dean of Students Gail Zimmerman is also involved in the task force.
Through the survey, students indicated that the Zorn Dining Common hours didn’t work for their schedules. That feedback contributed to Chartwells changing their hours.
“From the survey, students had indicated that the dining commons wasn’t open late enough so Chartwells did extend the hours a little bit,” Hickey said.
Chartwells manages the dining services at Keene State, which includes the Zorn Dining Commons, We Proudly Serve Starbucks, Hoot-n-Scoot, Night Owl Café Sizzlers and Lloyd’s Marketplace. Caitlin Howell is the marketing director for Chartwells.
“The Keene State Dining contract had expired with the previous provider and Chartwells presented to Keene State College why they should be the campus food provider and were offered the contract,” Howell said. “It is extremely important to us to constantly be aware of how satisfied students are with dining services. Students can provide feedback via email, the ‘happy or not’ kiosk, texting, surveys and in person.”
Chartwells is also introducing a Swipe It Forward program that would allow students to donate meal plans that would allow students without swipes to eat at the dining commons.
“Our dining commons was one of the first Chartwells dining commons to say they wanted to start a Swipe It Forward program,” Shields said.
Another attempt to reduce food insecurity on campus was the creation of a food pantry. Dr. Susan Whittemore is a biology professor at Keene State and started the Hungry Owl food pantry.
“I was at a conference; an academic technology conference for the USNH system. One of the speakers brought up some of the statistics of food insecurity of college students,” Whittemore said. “A lot of people outside of college think of college and university students as privileged in some way. This idea that so many of them were going hungry and the rise of food pantries shocked me.”
At the time Whittemore was the advisor for the pre-med club and brought up the idea of a food pantry idea.
“It didn’t work out well as a project for them, but it worked out well as a project,” Whittemore said. “I found a few students who I knew I could count on. It wasn’t me designing it. It was their plan, their name, their everything. I see it as a way of students taking leadership roles.”
When the Hungry Owl was first started it was housed in Randall Hall, but Whittemore and the student coordinators found that a satellite model worked better.
“We had a lot of food and it wasn’t moving, but we found with the satellite model, the food goes, Whittemore said. “I think it’s a start to get some calories out there.”
The hunger and homelessness task force is continuing to explore other ways to combat food insecurity at Keene State.
“It’s important to note that it’s not just here. It’s true not only at public schools but at Ivy League schools and at private schools. Our numbers are not unique,” Shields said.
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