College Food Banks: A Growing Necessity

by Center for Community Change | November 7, 2013 2:29 pm

Many have heard of the typical college diet of ramen noodles and pizza, and the struggle for students away at school to eat well. But beyond simply a problem of eating well, there are some college students who face real issues of hunger because they do not have enough money to buy food. The majority of these students do not qualify for food stamps, and many others cannot afford the meal plans offered at their universities.

Students living off of a limited budget often have little money left over for food after having to pay rent, tuition, student fees and other expenses.  As a result, universities across the country have started to open up food pantries on campus to accommodate students who struggle to pay for groceries.

“There are 17 million children in America who are food insecure, so when they turn 18, they don’t all of a sudden not become food insecure,” said Cathy McGloin, co-founder of Stony Brook University Food Pantry in New York.  “And if they’re going to college, they need to find some way to fill that need.”

When talking about hunger, college students are usually not the first group of people that comes to mind. But with one out of every five children currently living in poverty, we cannot expect this issue to disappear once these children become young adults.

A 2010 survey through the City University of New York system revealed that 39% of the students there had either skipped meals or did not have the funds to support a balanced diet.1 That’s nearly two out of every five students! A lack of proper nutrition affects students physically as well as academically, leading to higher levels of stress, decreased concentration, and lower academic performance.

Campus food banks have helped to address the growing problem of hunger among college students, but social stigma prevents more students from taking advantage of them.

“There is a stigma in that people just want to be able to take care of themselves,” said Angela Oxford, the director of the Center for Community Engagement at the University of Arkansas. “People don’t want to have to get assistance.”

The food pantry at the University of Arkansas has attempted to tackle this stigma by allowing students to request assistance online. Students may fill out an application electronically, specifying the food items that they need, and send the information to the food pantry via email. The food pantry then notifies students when their orders are available for pick up. These efforts can not only help ensure that students receive proper nutrition, but that they can also work to achieve their full academic potential. Erasing the stigma of using food banks and making them more accessible to students are key steps that still need to be taken.


1 Sandoval, Timothy. 2012. “Lingering Insecurity Sends Students to Campus Food Banks.” Chronicle Of Higher Education 59, no. 3: 27. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed October 21, 2013).

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