University Food Bank benefits graduate students
Story by Tyler Carter
On most college campuses around the country, students have meal plans which allow them access to meals until their cafeterias close for the day. But what happens to students who may have classes scheduled during hours that do not allow them to make it to dinner? Or what about students who do not have enough money to buy food to eat? Colleges around the country are realizing that students are suffering from hunger so some schools have begun to build food banks on their campuses. According to the Washington Post, in the last six years, the number of food banks on college campuses has increased. Also according to this article, a recent survey this year found that 59 percent of students at Western Oregon University had recently experienced food insecurity. The figure was 21 percent in a 2009 report for students at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 14.5 percent of U.S. households fall into the food insecurity category, which is associated with lower academic achievement.
This year, there are reportedly 121 food banks on college campuses. According to Savannah Thomas, student representative of the food bank at the University of Mississippi campus, the food bank was formed in November of 2012.
“During 2010 and 2011, many students at the university began to feel the effects of the economic recession,” Thomas said. “Faculty and staff, particularly at the University Counseling Center and in Health Services, began to hear from students who were seeking assistance due to financial hardship and hunger. A group of concerned students, faculty, and staff decided that there needed to be a resource for students who needed food assistance on campus.”
Thomas went on to explain why a food bank on campus was vital and needed to support students who were lacking funds to purchase food.
“The mission of the Ole Miss Food Bank is to provide food to end student hunger and to foster a healthy college community. No student should have to face the struggles of finding enough food to eat. The food bank ensures that students at Ole Miss have access to a resource that will assist them during times of hardship. The food bank is especially important because it raises awareness about the issue of hunger that we have across the country and provides an open and anonymous space where any student can come to get food.”
Dr. Robert Cummings, adviser for the Ole Miss Food Bank serves as Director of the Center for Writing and Rhetoric and Associate Professor of English at the University of Mississippi. The food bank is very important to Cummings for numerous reasons.
“It helps to raise awareness of food insecurity as an increasing problem in the higher education landscape. Our students, colleagues, friends, and neighbors are all affected by food insecurity. We are the leading research university in the poorest state in the nation. That identity is more than a statistic: living in the poorest state in the nation means that almost everyone is affected by poverty in some way, and their needs are not always visible. Members of my family have needed a food bank at some point in their lives. It helps me understand that needing food assistance is something common for our community, and receiving food aid does not need to be a traumatic or stigmatizing experience. Sometimes we have some extra to share; sometimes we have a need for help. I have often heard it said that the difference between being broke and being poor is a state of mind; being broke is a temporary condition but being poor is a long-term condition. I think that students cheerfully and discreetly helping each other out with food assistance means that more students will see the need for food assistance as a temporary condition. But more than that, the existence of the Food Bank is proof of the good nature of our students to band together to help one another.”
While students know that this is an available resource for them, some may be too bashful to ask for assistance. Graduate students such as Hugh Jones utilized the Food Bank during his time here.
“Throughout my academic life, including the years before college, I have lived at a certain level of food insecurity. My parents are elderly, and my mother has been severely disabled for the last 20 years. I have always had to hold down jobs in college to support myself, and sometimes my family members. Until recently, with a big old pile of good luck, I am now bar tending 4 shifts a week, and coming close to earning over the Federal Poverty Line for a one person household, which as you may already know, a ridiculously low standard. I’m lucky for student healthcare.”
The food bank has over 100 students on its volunteer email list; per time slot, two students staff the food bank at all times. During the school year, they are open six days a week and hours are updated on the website depending on the time of year. Some students may be hesitant to ask for help so the food bank takes steps to ensure any student can feel comfortable visiting the food bank for assistance.
“We strive to be an open place where students feel comfortable; thus, we don’t collect any of the students’ personal information,” said Thomas. “To take advantage of the services we provide, a student simply comes during our hours of operation and is able to take as much food as he or she needs. We have no limit on the food an individual can take, nor a limit on the number of times a student can come to the food bank during the week.”
To aid in supporting this cause, anyone interested in contributing to the Ole Miss Food Bank should email firstname.lastname@example.org. Financial assistance is also an option Cummings explained.
“Direct food donations and tax-deductible financial donations are our only means of support. Financial donations may be given to the University of Mississippi Foundation, with the indication that the donation is for the Food Bank.”
Assistance is greatly appreciated by the community at The University of Mississippi and in Oxford.