Fighting Hunger in the ‘Athens of the South‘
Long before Nashville was called Music City, it was known as the Athens of South. The moniker referenced the more than 20 colleges and universities that called the area home. While campus life allows Middle Tennessee students the opportunity to explore their interests, make lifelong friends, and have fun, it also poses some challenges, including financial hardship and hunger. Nearly one third of college students in the U.S. face food insecurity, potentially undermining their academic achievements and career aspirations. There are many factors that lead to hunger on campus.
Here are five things you should know:
1. 30% of college students face food insecurity. According to the College and University Food Bank Alliance, nearly 1 in 3 college students have missed a meal at least once a week.
2. The cost of living for students in college has increased by 80%. The Global Food Initiative has found that over the past four decades, the cost of room and board has increased exponentially, with food and housing expenses accounting for more than 60% of the total cost of attending a college and university.
3. 70% of college students today are considered “nontraditional.” A study conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed a majority of college students are: enrolling in school after the ages of 26, financially independent from their parents and/or working full-time while in school to support themselves.
4. 22% of students in college are balancing schoolwork with parenting. Additionally, the GAO found that 1 in 4 students are caring for child dependents, and 14% are doing so as single parents.
5. 52% of students who faced food or housing insecurity in 2020 didn’t apply for help. A recent Hope Center survey found that stigma and access to the right information played a role in students NOT applying for support programs, with many unaware help was available.
Addressing Campus Hunger
Second Harvest has partnered with local community colleges and universities, to ensure that all college students have access to the food they need for themselves and their families – allowing them to focus on their studies, learn, and thrive.
Nashville State Community College (NSCC) has created school food pantries – called Campus Cupboards – at several of their Middle Tennessee campus locations with the help of Second Harvest. NCSS students at risk of hunger can place orders online for non-perishable food items, which staff and student volunteers pack and deliver curbside to their cars.
“The Campus Cupboard program came from looking at the needs of our students and realizing that despite the financial aid of Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect, there were other barriers for students to complete their degree or certificate,” said Dr. Shanna L. Jackson, president of NSCC and Second Harvest Food Bank board member.
During the pandemic the need for food assistance grew significantly. To keep students, staff, and volunteers safe, Nashville State was able to move all food orders online thanks to a grant from the Tennessee Department of Human Services. Piedmont Natural Gas and Kroger also supported the College’s efforts to expand the program.
Tennessee State University (TSU) recently held a grand opening to celebrate for their newly expanded and relocated Tiger Pantry. Made possible with funding from Kroger, the pantry provides frozen meals, cold drinks, ready-to-eat meals as well as other pantry staples provided by Second Harvest to TSU students at risk of hunger.
“We are extremely grateful to have this partnership with Kroger that will allow us to do even more to meet the needs of our students,” said Frank Stevenson, TSU associate vice president of Student Affairs and dean of students. “The last thing they need to worry about is what they’re going to eat. Partnerships like this between the business community and TSU show the concern companies like Kroger have for the well-being of our students. Together, we can make a difference.”
Finding Support on Campus
When NSCC student Korina’s husband had his hours cut back during the pandemic, the psychology major and mother was concerned how her family would have enough food to eat with a smaller pay check coming in. Fortunately, the Campus Cupboard on NSCC’s White Bridge Campus, served as a real lifeline to Korina and her family.
“I knew about the Campus Cupboard program when I first enrolled and thought it was a great resource,” said Korina. “It wasn’t until my family had to use it that I truly understood how vital it is for some.”
The food assistance enabled Korina, at the age of 43, to achieve her lifelong dream of graduating with an associates degree in May 2021.