Huskers helping huskers resolve college hunger

Produced by Marjani Knighten, NewsNetNebraska

Do you have enough food?

College students might tend to say, “I am a broke college student” or “I can’t go shopping because I am broke.” College can be considered a luxury for some. But others find days where it is hard to get three, or even five meals a day.

Megan Scherling, the program coordinator for  Huskers Helping Huskers Pantry+ at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, surveyed a number students on campus on whether they have low or high food security. She found around one in three students go through some form of food insecurity.

Food insecurity is the inability to access numerous amounts of affordable, healthy food. The Hunger on Campus report says this is common at colleges and universities across the country, with the possibility of hurting their education for a handful of students.

Instead of continually eating fruits and vegetables every day, students might have to choose between paying bills or buying groceries, between textbooks and meal plans, or between toothpaste and breakfast.

Lexey Kneib, a UNL sophomore, had moments when she struggled to manage her money and her ability to have meals throughout the day.

“I have a problem with buying what I want and not that I need,” said Kneib. “So when I do that then I find myself like waking up and not having anything to eat for breakfast.”

Being her first year out of the dorms Kneib sometimes found herself working on a budget plan with her parents, but sometimes isn’t able to stick with it.

But college student hunger isn’t a new issue, but until recent years food access at colleges and universities has not received much national attention. Some people don’t see food insecurity among college students as a stigma like poverty, homelessness and other food assistance programs.

“I don’t know who doesn’t have food coming in or the resources for food,” said Ashley Willis, a junior at UNL and who volunteers at Huskers Helping Huskers Pantry.

The need for education 

“We know from children growing up that if you don’t get enough food, you aren’t learning properly,” said Ian Newman.

Ian Newman is a retired professor at UNL. He worked in the educational psychology and focused mainly on health problems that interfere learning and school attendance.

According to a 2016 survey conducted by the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, out of the 3,765 respondents from four different universities, 80 percent said that their food insecurity affected their class performance. Also, more than 55 percent said this problem affected their ability to attend classes.

On the hand, Newman thinks because people don’t have a set educational foundation on this issue, it makes it difficult for people to see that it is an issue.

“I think part of that might be a function of education. We don’t learn much about how to plan. We don’t learn much about the economics of food. Anywhere in our educational system,” said Newman.

In past and upcoming years, first-generation students are getting more opportunity to attend four-year and two-year colleges.

The National Center for Education Statistics found that between 2004 and 2014 there a 17 percent increase in first-generation college students, from 17.3 million to 20.2 million.

“People are trying to get an education when their basic needs can’t be met, and so there is kind of a disconnect,” said Ashley Willis, a volunteer at Huskers Helping Huskers Pantry.

The growth on change 

Over time more college campuses are now offering food pantries.

In 2008, The College and University Food Bank Alliance found there were only nine food pantries. As of 2015, there are now 184 and more pantries helping college students across campuses.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln already has one food pantry at the UNL Lutheran Center.

Cody McCain, a UNL junior and the coordinator of the Lutheran Center, Open Shelf, said around 200 students visit the pantry every school year.

“From the survey, we kind of realized that was the tip of the iceberg,” said McCain.

But even though 30 percent may not seem like a significant number, it is still a troubling number, said Megan Scherling.

So in January of 2015, the university opened Huskers Helping Huskers Pantry+ in the union on city campus. This pantry has over 20 volunteers working to give students on campus the resources they need on a daily basis.

Ever since then, numerous donations have been flowing into the pantry, including baby and school supplies, and hygiene products.

The food pantry works to keep students anonymous because of the stigma related to food insecurity in the eyes of other students.

“It’s hard for (students) to understand that they can come in,” Scherling said, “You don’t have to be homeless to go to a food pantry.”

Students are also introduced to other resources, such as the university’s career center, University Housing and the money management office on the second floor of UNL’s union.

“We just wanted to make sure we weren’t saying okay, we gave you a can of food, so you’re good now. We know that it’s deeper than that,” said Scherling.

“Be aware of how, for myself, how blessed I am and know that I have the resources to help other people,” said Willis.

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