When you think of homeless and hungry individuals–college students are probably not the first population that comes to mind. According to a study conducted last year by the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, approximately half of all college students have experienced food insecurity within the past thirty days. Food insecurity, as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture, is not having reliable access to affordable and nutritious food.
On IUPUI’s campus, Paw’s Pantry is one resource that works to ensure students, staff, and faculty have access to food assistance. I interviewed Shaina Lawrence, the Assistant Director of Student Advocacy and Support at IUPUI who also coordinates Paw’s Pantry, to find out more information about this resource.
Karley Clayton: Shaina, when did Paw’s Pantry begin and what is its current state?
Shaina Lawrence: Paw’s Pantry started in October 2013, but planning began in 2011 after a group of students watched an NBC nightly news feature about a food pantry on a college campus in Florida. They started surveying students to see if a resource like this was needed on campus, discovered that there indeed was food insecurity happening on campus. Last year, we were seeing about 50 people a week, and it has tripled this year. On average 150 students are coming to the pantry a week.
KC: How do you keep up with that demand?
SL: Well, we are currently running out of food in our storage. I actually had to go out and buy some food last week because our shelves were nearly empty. We do not have a budget provided by the university, and rely on donors and community partners. Buying food on a monthly basis for us is not sustainable. Last week, 1,000 items left our shelves. We are investigating how to make our supplies last longer.
KC: How does food insecurity impact a college student’s ability to be successful?
SL: Think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If you think about it, if you are hungry and going to a meeting you are probably not able to focus on what you are doing or what is being said. A student going to class hungry is going to have a much more difficult time concentrating and participating if they are worried about getting their basic needs met. Their focus is on “where am I going to get my next meal and how will I pay for it?”. Students are investing in their college education, whether it be financial aid or their own money, and they cannot accomplish what they came here to do because they are hungry.
SL: That it does exist. Yes, it is absolutely a privilege to go to college. However, just because students are able to attend does not mean they have loads of money. School is expensive, and aside from tuition there is rent, paying for parking, text books, and so many other incurred expenses. At IUPUI, most of our students work at least 20 hours a week, but it is not enough. Likewise, I think not everyone recognizes that many of our students are coming from less affluent communities and may need more assistance on campus.
KC: How do you publicize the pantry to students?
SL: We use social media to connect with students, since that is popular with them. We also put up pop-up banners on days when the pantry is open in three locations. This has helped increase our traffic. We also push this resource during orientation to create awareness for both students who may need the pantry and also for students who may wish to volunteer.
KC: How Can Community Members Help?
SL: Paw’s Pantry has a sponsorship program where organizations and companies can sponsor a food item shelf, like pasta or breakfast foods. They ask for at least 15 items every two weeks to keep the shelves stocked. They will also pick them up for you each week! However, more items are welcomed, because with 150 students coming in every week there is quite a demand. We also always welcome any type of food or monetary donations.
How can you help?
Here are a few ways you can impact food insecurity on college campuses:
- Stay educated on food insecurity issues on college campuses. The Wisconsin HOPE Lab is one resource with information about recent research and current projects happening to fight collegiate food insecurity.
- Donate food items to Paw’s Pantry. Orange collection bins are located all over IUPUI’s campus, or contact the pantry to have items pick-up.
- Encourage your colleagues to also contribute. Consider sponsoring a shelf at Paw’s Pantry and maintain a regular donation.
Any questions about Paw’s Pantry can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
Karley Clayton, a Wisconsin native, is student affairs educator who proudly serves University College students at IUPUI. She loves cheese curds (obviously), 80’s music, and plotting her next adventure. You’ll find Karley walking the Monon Trail or drinking a cider in Broad Ripple.