Department of Education recognizes university’s efforts to combat food insecurity.
Over one-third of students know someone who dropped out of college due to food insecurity during the pandemic, according to national studies about food insecurity amongst US college students.
While COVID-19 helped shed light on the issue of students going hungry, Cheyney University was addressing food and basic needs insecurities prior to the pandemic. When leadership learned that students can have a meal plan and still be hungry, the university in 2019 created a food pantry that included fresh vegetables and fruits.
“As reports indicate, students of color experience food insecurity at higher rate; and first-generation students experience insecurities at higher rates than non- first-generation students,” said Rosalyn Henderson, Cheyney’s TRIO Student Support Services Director. “The bottom line is if you’re food insecure you can’t focus on your education and have poor academic progress.”
Through TRiO’s ongoing efforts over the last three years, what started as small donations has expanded into a complete food pantry program that was recently recognized as a PA Hunger-Free Campus by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Cheyney is one of eight higher education institutions in the state to receive the designation, certifying that it can meet several requirements to obtain the status.
“TRiO Student Support Services provides a holistic approach in the delivery of services for our students,” said Henderson. “Therefore, Cheyney’s participation in this program established the commitment we have to lessen food insecurity and forge student success.”
One of the requirements is for an institution to have a method to directly connect students to food options such as a food pantry. TRiO utilizes every campus platform to get the word out about the food pantry that is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“Everyone should be aware of the food pantry. Flyers are posted around campus, in residence halls and included with campus-wide weekly notices,” said Henderson.
The Hunger-Free Campus Initiative and the Hunger-Free Campus+ Initiative help build a coalition of Pennsylvania institutions of higher education (IHEs) focused on addressing hunger and other basic needs for their students, creating opportunities for connection among student hunger advocates, providing resources and strategies for campuses, and supporting opportunities to apply for grants related to addressing food insecurity.
According to First Lady Frances Wolf, who helped launch the Hunger-Free Campus Initiative, hunger is a devastating reality affecting too many of Pennsylvania’s postsecondary students as they strive to further their education.
Acting Secretary of Education Eric Hagarty stated during the initiative launch, “We know that students need access to healthy food to stay focused, learn, grow, and thrive. And yet, many postsecondary students face financial barriers to filling their most basic needs,” said Hagarty. “The Hunger-Free Campus Initiative empowers Pennsylvania’s colleges and universities to combat hunger on their campuses and provide the resources that students need to continue their education and go on to obtain family-sustaining, meaningful careers.”
Cheyney’s efforts have been recognized beyond its campus and the Commonwealth. The university has been selected to be part of the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health on Sept. 28. The conference aims to address hunger and improve health and is the first of its kind if more than 50 years.
TRIO Student Support Services is a federally funded program that provides academic assistance to up to 284 eligible undergraduate students at the university. The goal is to help low-income and first-generation college students and/or college students with disabilities to succeed and earn their bachelor’s degree. Staff members know that some of the university’s students come from marginalized backgrounds and might need more resources and support than other students. According to Henderson, some students are not aware of the resources available to them, while others allow their pride to get in the way.
“We assist student with resources to lessen various insecurities. Providing access to our students is the essential piece to ensure we lessen hunger,” said Henderson.