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CUFBA Helps Colleges and Universities Battle Food Insecurity among Students

Jan 01, 2017 02:25PM ● Published by Vanessa Orr

Campus food pantry at the Community College of Allegheny County

Gallery: CUFBA [0 Images] Click any image to expand.

There are many challenges that college students face as they work to earn degrees, from managing their time, to working part- or full-time jobs while in school, to trying to raise a family while also taking classes. But one factor that can have a huge impact on the learning experience is food insecurity—an issue that can not only affect their studies, but their long-term success in life.

According to the College and University Food Bank Alliance (CUFBA), food insecurity has increasingly become an issue on college and university campuses, and it can pose a significant barrier to student success. To this end, CUFBA provides training, support and resources to approximately 400 campus-based food banks and pantries, and to groups focused on ending food insecurity. In Pittsburgh, its members include the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC), Chatham University, the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State, among others.

“Food insecurity is a significant problem—research on student hunger shows between 20 and 40 percent of students on a given campus reporting being food insecure," explained Clare Cady, co-director and co-founder of CUFBA. “They either suffer from food insecurity without hunger, which means that they may get enough calories, but are not able to feed themselves nutritionally—think of the stereotype of eating nothing but Ramen noodles—or they have food insecurity with hunger, where they are skipping meals to make ends meet in order to stay in school.”

Cady and co-founder Nate Smith-Tyge were both managing campus food pantries at different schools when they decided to create an organization to provide a collegial connection among campus food banks across the country. “What we realized when we were doing our research is that a lot of people wanted to learn how to establish these types of food banks but didn’t know how, so we turned our attention to creating a support organization to help them,” said Cady. “Membership is free, and our resources are open source and free—it’s kind of a no-brainer to join.”

CUFBA offers an online toolkit to help food pantries get started and also provides networking opportunities and phone consulting services to its members. An all-volunteer organization, CUFBA has been providing these services since March 2012.

“CUFBA has great resources for campuses looking to open food pantries,” said Kelli L. Maxwell, Ph.D., dean of student development at CCAC, who has taken advantage of the information in the organization’s handbook as well as the crowdsourcing section of CUFBA’s website. 

“Food insecurity is a large problem at CCAC, because as a community college, we serve a diverse group of students, many of whom work full-time and have to support families as well,” she added. “We look at our food pantry as a retention measure; students can’t concentrate if they are hungry or worried about where they’ll get food for their families, and having food available allows them to concentrate on their studies.”

Since its ‘soft’ debut this past fall, CCAC’s food pantry has served 235 people, and has increased from a monthly distribution to staying open four days a week to meet the need. Maxwell credits the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and a grant from Jefferson Regional Foundation for contributing to the success of its program.

Alice P. Julier, director of the food studies program and associate dean of the Falk School of Sustainability at Chatham University, has used CUFBA’s resources, including a recently released study about food insecurity and the organization’s monthly newsletters, to delve into the possibility of opening a food pantry, as well as to look at more long-term solutions to students’ food insecurity.

“Pantries help out in an emergency, but we’re exploring ways to help these students throughout their time at school,” she explained. “Given that we grow food and help support the production of food products, there are a variety of ways in which we can address the problem, including making our fresh produce pop-up farm market in Shadyside more effective and creating a student-run co-op that will run out of Eden Hall.”

According to Cady, helping students gain access to adequate and nutritious food is important to the community as a whole. “It is critical to the success of our society and our economy to have people be able to access and benefit from higher education,” she said. “If students can’t stay in school because of food insecurity, they cannot sustain themselves, their families or contribute to society.”

To learn more about CUFBA, visit www.cufba.org. 

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