Estimates on the number of students who are food insecure on campus vary widely, with some studies reporting as low as 7% and others reporting nearly 50%. What are campuses around the country doing to ensure that their students’ basic needs are met? We spoke with Clare Cady and Joanna Garcia to find out.
Meg: Hey y’all, it’s Meg Sunga and welcome to “Will There Be Food?”, the student affairs podcast that like your job is so much more than free pizza. Every week, we get to explore a new topic in higher ed with humans in the industry. From a closet somewhere in a Dean of Students Office to a large, fully-funded center in the heart of campus, food pantries come in all shapes and sizes, very similarly to the students that we serve. Estimates on the number of students who are food-insecure on campus vary widely, with some studies reporting as low as 7% and others reporting nearly 50%. But what are campuses around the country doing to ensure that their students’ basic needs are being met? On today’s episode, we’re getting insight into what being food insecure really looks like, what campuses like FIU are doing to support their students, and how the folks at College and University Food Bank Alliance helped change the game. Our first guest is Joanna Garcia. Joanna is the associate director for the Center for Leadership and Service at Florida International University. Hey Joanna. How’s it going?
Joanna: Hi Meg. I’m doing good. How are you?
Meg: I’m good. So Jonna, I am so glad that we’re talking today because as I was researching this topic, you actually popped up serendipitously and was looking for people to speak with um, on food insecurity and saw you done a webinar about food insecurity, FIU and so really just wanted to jump in with what your role is and what food insecurity on your campus looks like today.
Joanna: Yeah, for my role at the center for leadership and service, I am the person who oversees our student food pantries on campus. I took it on as a project in 2014 and we didn’t have a food pantry at the time. I had a conversation with our director and then our dean of students and they were both really supportive. So I started to develop a food pantry on campus to kind of address some of the needs of our students. And since then. It has grown and expanded instead of just seeing the one food pantry on our Modesto Maidique campus. Now I also oversee the pantry at the Biscayne Bay campus. Those are true primary campuses for FIU. And that’s how I really came to be and became involved with the food pantry on our campus.
Meg: That’s awesome. Thank you for that. Um, are you, uh, let me rephrase this question. Let’s kind of start from the basics. I kind of feel like I just jumped right in there. But um, what do you feel like food, food insecurity is when we talk about with college students and what causes it?
Joanna: Yeah, so food insecurity is not having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food. At least on our campus, I think we serve a lot of students that qualify for Pell grants and have a greater financial need. And so having to choose between paying tuition, maybe rent, transportation or a car and books, you know, sometimes food is the last thing and that’s the one that students can control. So they might be able to pay for all the other items with some of the financial aid they get or some of the funds that they get from working or having a part-time job. But then when it comes to food, that might be the one thing that they go without. And so maybe they’re eating some meals but not consistent meals on a daily basis. So sometimes they’ll skip a meal and say, “Oh, I don’t have to have lunch” or “I don’t need to have dinner today because I don’t have the funds and I can kind of save it.” The need for our students to be able to choose, you know, what are they able to pay for – for the week. And obviously they’ll choose to, you know, pay for tuition so they can be enrolled, but then they might need to come to a decision where it is, I can’t pay for food this week or the next two or three days. So I have to find other ways to fine food on campus, whether that’s going to an event that has free food, or trying to, you know, go to the food pantry if there is one. But that’s not always the case.
Meg: Got it, ok. So a little bit from what you just said. Um, you kind of mentioned on the types of decision-making that students have to make in regards to, you know, what that priority is going to be with how they want to spend their money for rent or for, you know, books or, or for food. Um, and I’m curious, do you feel like there is a certain type of student that you know, food pantries, um, are targeting or, you know, is it, is there a myth that there is only one type of student needing food pantries?
Joanna: It’s hard to pinpoint the type of student, depending on the institution and also the time of year. Um, you will find that this affects multiple types of students and obviously students get financial aid through the fast fund might be one of the types of students that we see a lot, at least on our food pantry on campus. But they don’t have to be necessarily the only type of students. You know, when we think of the end of the semester, we tend to see that our students are coming to the food pantry more often or that there is a peak in the usage of the food pantry and sometimes that’s not the typical student that comes all the time. Maybe just the student that was better off during the first half of the semester and now it’s the end of the semester and they’ve they’ve run out of resources and they might be coming in for a short-term need rather than a more longterm ongoing need. The type of student might change from institution to institution. When we’re looking at, you know, who’s using the food pantry, I know on our campus we have tried to do some research to see what our profile is and so we do know that students are, you know, that get a Pell grant are, you know, more likely to come to visit our pantry.
Meg: Okay. So you’re using the data, um, you’re tracking a little bit on seeing who is using the food pantry more often. That’s awesome. Tell me, how has FIU made students feel more comfortable about using the food pantry or food pantry resources?
Joanna: Yeah, I think one of the positive things that our campus has done is to try to normalize the use of the pantry as much as possible by making it part of our orientation program. And so not just talking about it during orientation when a student comes to campus, but also letting students know that when they come to their orientation they can also help if they want by bringing in donations. They get walked by the food pantry as part of like their, their tour as part of our virtual orientation. That is a new, um, the thing that we’re doing on campus now. All students that come to orientation before coming to the physical in-person orientation, they do a virtual orientation tour and part of that is talking about the food pantry and getting to know that resource amongst many other resources on campus. Also, um, we try to let students know that it’s available at different times and in different locations. So, obviously some of the more typical locations are through our Dean of Students Office or care team. Um, the nutritionist on campus is someone that we also partner with because sometimes she speaks to students that have a food insecurity issue. They’re not just, you know, looking for nutritious guidance but that they’re not getting enough food. But I think it’s also our student leaders being able to talk about the pantry and to also kind of share when they’ve used the pantry themselves, not just for, you know, whatever stigma we have made up in our heads to be of the type of student that should be coming to the food pantry. Um, so I think when they see their peers and student leaders that maybe an incoming student looks up to, like a orientation leader or an RA, um, they’re able to really understand that, you know, I can use a food pantry as well and without feeling like this is something that is only for a certain type of student.
Meg: Absolutely. I think that is huge, huge point. Because when I was in undergrad, I honestly couldn’t tell you where our food pantry was. I probably still couldn’t do it to this day. I remember seeing some background, um, like posters. In my memories, I see us as as RAs, when I was RA, talking about it to our students. But I honestly couldn’t connect with that need, um, because I, it wasn’t a resource that I was using myself, um, or didn’t seek out to even learn a little bit more about. So I think that, you know, what you said about working with students, student leaders specifically too, to highlight, you know, and do that peer-to-peer information, um, is going to be super helpful with students understanding why food pantries are important and why there shouldn’t be any stigma behind it. So that’s super cool that you all have, um, put that into, um, into work at FIU.
Joanna: Yeah, I definitely think it helps. And you know, our student are one of our best resources when it comes to getting the word out there.
Meg: Now you said food pantry and food insecurity kind of came into your purview a couple of years ago. When did your institution decide that food insecurity was something that they wanted to address?
Joanna: It was back in 2014 when I first had the conversation about wanting to create a food pantry on campus. And at the same time when I had that conversation with our Dean of Students, she, she mentioned how yes, they saw a number of students that that would come to the office. And I think having that conversation with her and also with a nutritionist on campus just really help bring the, the problem I guess, you know, to light and, and to be able to address it. And I think that because she noticed that I had an interest and that my department was willing to kinda let me run with the idea. Um, they were all on board too to let me try it. And then, you know, I was also very much made aware of that, you know, if you try this and if it works then you know, you own it, you know, for kind of the rest. And then it falls within the Center for Leadership and Service. So if one day, you know, I move on and I’m no longer in my role, then someone else will have to obviously, um, carry it on.
Meg: So speaking about how this all started, in your view, what are all the components of your food pantry? Like what are the steps that are required to put this on?
Joanna: Yeah, I think, well I think first of all, you, I think having-but in from, from leadership and like senior leadership. So whether that is vice presidents of student affairs office or if, you know, the campus is as more of a merge with, um, academic and student affairs or if it’s under the Dean of students, but really having the buy in and kind of like the green light from senior leadership because I think that that would really help garnish the support that you’ll need or all the following steps after that. Um, I think one of the big issues that we encounter here was the space. You know, where do we want to have this food pantry? Where can we find a space for the food pantry? Um, and that was a big challenge for us. And I probably anticipate that it might be a big challenge on other institutions as well because I feel like space is always thing on campuses. eah. And, and I think we, um, you know, our Dean of students was helpful in that area and trying to find a location. Originally we wanted it to be within our student union building. At that time when we first opened, there was no, no space on, on, on our student union. So then we used a room in one of the academic buildings and it was a very small space, but we made it work. Um, you know, eventually we are now in our student union. So we, we got a larger space, um, after a few years, once, you know, the institution saw that one, the need was there, the students were using the, the food pantry and also, um, academic space needed their, their room back. So that kind of helped put some pressure on our leadership to be like, okay, we have to find a new space because we definitely have to keep the food pantry going. Um, and so we were able to move. So I would say space is definitely, I think one of the roadblocks that I’ve seen, not just myself, but other campuses run into. So I think that’s something to think about, uh, from the get-go. And, uh, as you’re planning, I think, you know, finding the champions on campus that are going to really support and then be willing to get on board to help in whatever way possible, whether that is, you know, through they’ll help with marketing to help with some of the resources that you might need. Um, budget is important. We, when we first started, there was no budget and for a long time we were donations spaced, until we were able to garnish some supports through our student government association. Um, that gave us some of the funding and also through, we created a foundation account where staff, faculty, you know, alumni or just really anyone that wants to help can donate money so that we could use that, those funds to be able to run the food pantry. Um, I think other things to think about is using the resources that are already out there available. Um, there’s an organization called CUFBA. That is the College and University Food Bank Alliance. And they have a lot of resources. Pretty much if you have a food pantry on your campus, you probably want to join and be part of the group because they have a lot of resources on how to create a food pantry and how to get started. And they do, they collect data and they share it back to the group. And so they, I think that they have about over 250, uh, food pantries on college campuses that are part of this – of CUFBA. And so I think that they’re really are really helpful for anyone that that is getting started. Um, and then it also helps to do some benchmarking on, on your state, at least on your area to know what kind of works and what hasn’t for other people. Before we started, I had conversations with other food pantries in the state of Florida that were already established and you know, you had all sizes. I talked to someone who just had a closet and then I talked to another university that had a full-on, you know, pantry with, no, not just nonperishable items but also refrigerated items, which is, which is great and that’s where we want to get to eventually.
Meg: That is amazing. All of those resources are fantastic. And you actually answered one of my questions. I’ll skip. No, it’s perfect. I love it. I love it. So uh yes, from a closet to like a fully built out center. I think that I’ve seen a little bit of both on, on different campuses. Um, I want to talk a little more about your challenges when you first started out. Um, cause you alluded to before, but with, with getting people to buy in, right? So you had mentioned, you know, you needed to go, um, and have those conversations with the higher ups as well as you know, your peers. Um, what, how did you start those conversations? Did you bring data to them? Did you just, you know, say, “Hey, this is an issue on our campus, we should just address it or you know, we should find ways to address it.” What did that, where did that start?
Joanna: So I first started with our director of the Center for Leadership and Service and she took me to a meeting with our Dean of Students and with her buy-in. Um, I guess that made it easy on me because once I had brought up the idea, she didn’t really ask me for any type of data, which I think, you know, you should have if you are able to bring that up. But because I think her work already allowed her to see the need on the campus, they didn’t have to do a lot of convincing after that. Folks understood. And then once we began to open the food pantry and students started to come and they started to use the pantry and we can show the numbers, I think that, you know, that really helps obviously explain why this has to be sustained and what we have to keep the work going.
Meg: Sure. Are there specific campus partners that you’re working with right now? Cause you mentioned you had two different food pantries, so I was wondering what your campus partnerships might look like.
Joanna: Yeah, so although our pantries, um, are currently under our center for leadership and service, prior to us beginning to work with the Biscayne Bay campus, it was actually under our healthy living programs office. Um, they were the ones that first started to do the work on that campus. Um, and it has since moved over just because it made more sense for one area to kind of oversee it. And decided that we had a better infrastructure for the pantry. And so that was like a mutual kind of agreement that came to be, you know, the healthy living program area in our, on our campus has, you know, works with the nutritionist. So she’s part of that team. I would say most departments and areas on our campus are our partners, because we do an adopt a month program where a unit college department, depending on what they call themselves, signed up to adopt a particular month during the year. So let’s say orientation office wants to adopt a month. They say, okay, we’re going to take January. All that means is that in January they are doing some sort of food drive or collection. Um, I really want to do it to benefit the pantry. And then they bring their donations at the end of the month to one of our food pantries, whichever campus works best for them. And so that has been really successful, especially over the last year because we were able to get our, um, senior vice president for external relations on our campus and our senior vice president for academic and student affairs to send out a memo out to the entire university community and to really encourage departments to sign up. Um, certain groups can do it as well. So we have some student organizations that also sign up to adopt a month email that came from them, like really give that final push because we were doing the program before, but we would, you know, reach out. We were called and sometimes we would get responses but sometimes not. And so when you adopt a month, you do it on that month on an annual basis. So you had January this past year, then we will send you a reminder in December of the following year and say, you know, just a friendly reminder you signed up to adopt January. And then we, you know, we sent out a list of donations that are needed, suggested items. Um, but they can get really as much as they want or as little as they want for that particular program because we recognize that not every department has the same amount of individuals. So we’d open up to that department.
Meg: That is awesome. I think that you have created buy-in from both the top down ….to you know, coordinators, even students with, you know the student org is being able to adopt a month as well. I think that’s super cool.
Joanna: Yeah I definitely think it helps. And you know we continue to try to market cause we have, you know, over 58,000 students and sometimes you still find the students that don’t know that there is a food pantry. So, you know, I think we continue to strive to make sure that as many students as possible know that it exists and even if they don’t need it, that they can tell another student that might need it and they can tell them about it. So we’re still, you know, working on that awareness piece because we do still encounter students that didn’t know that it was there.
Meg: Sure. So speaking of marketing, how are you all currently marketing the food pantry? Is that in-house or do you have communications office or marketing office?
Joanna: So it’s been mainly us. Um, and our campus life office, which is a different department, has a publications team and they have allowed us to work with their publication staff to be able to create brochures and other types of, of printable materials. And obviously we can also use them electronically. Um, I think our university has a system called UNIF mail and that goes out to faculty and staff only. And so if they’re just like different announcements and any department can kind of submit an announcement that they want to share. So we use a system to kind of remind faculty and staff that the food pantry is there. Um, also kind of remind them that they can donate at any time, whether that be donating actual items or if they prefer to donate funds. We have that foundation account that, that they can use. Um, and so that’s a way that we kind of let faculty and staff know about it. Um, our Dean of students also sends out communication to the students typically once a semester or once an academic year with all of the different resources under our Panthers Care Team. And the food pantry is one of those resources that is listed to make students aware. Um, so I think it’s a combination of our office but then that like word of mouth, um, housing and residential life is really helpful, especially for our students that live on campus. You know, typically the RAs do a great job of posting flyers for the food pantry on their floor and making sure that the residents are aware. And a good number of the students that come to our pantry are, you know, students that live on campus for us. So those are ways in which we market on our campus.
Meg: Awesome. I’m a former res lifer, so I have to say shout out to the RAs for doing their job. I’m so proud every time I hear that. I’m like, yes, yes. RAs doing the work, doing the work. Joanna, what advice would you give someone who wants to start, um, tackling food insecurity at their institution? If you had like three tips?
Joanna: So I think I would say to make sure to find out if there’s somebody else already doing the work before you get started so that you can partner with them. But if there isn’t, isn’t anyone trying to get that buy-in from, you know, someone in senior leadership I think would be really important. Um, so that they can, it’s easier that way, you know, as you start to plan. Um, I think looking at the resources, um, through, you know, the College and University Food Bank Alliance that I mentioned. Um, but also looking at colleges in the state and seeing what they’re doing. One of the things that I found out through, you know, my research was that, you know, you contend to partner with a local food bank and I, that was something that I didn’t know about at first and something that we have done and partnering with a local food bank might mean that you get to purchase food from them at pretty much, very low cost, low cost to no cost at all. So that’s something that we have done. So finding those resources, um, on the state level or just their, their, you know, city that can be helpful towards their food pantry and really finding like the champions on the campus who are going to be able to help. There are professors that teach courses about food insecurity. They might be great champions, you know, they might have their class do a project that benefits the pantry. Whether that is, you know, creating the marketing material, whether that is doing some volunteer work at the pantry. Um, I think that those are some of the people on the campus that maybe we don’t think about right away, but that can really be champions and that are really interested and care about, um, what our students are going through. So, um, I think finding the champions, using the resources at a local or state level and really getting that buy in from senior leadership would be important before starting that food pantry on the campus or any, any type of efforts to tackle food insecurities.
Meg: Thank you, Joanna, so much for joining me today. It’s been awesome learning about your work at FIU and the, the work that you’ve put into creating this food pantry over the last couple of years in tackling food insecurity on your campus. Thank you so, so much.
Joanna: Thank you, Meg. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you today.
Speaker 4: Our next guest is Clare Cady. Clare is the Director of Research and Innovation at Single Stop and the director and co-founder of CUFBA, the College and University Food Bank Alliance. Thank you, Clare, so much for joining us today on “Will There Be Food?”
Clare: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for having me,
Meg: Clara. Um, I first off I want to say, um, we were doing, when we’re doing research for this topic, it was kind of um, kismet how I got connected to you and I want to share this with the listeners because I think it is definitely the power of this student affairs world and how small it is and who you know. Um, but I did a call to some of my friends in the field asking them if they knew anyone working in, um, with food insecurity or in food banks on campuses and a mutual colleague of ours, um, Junior Pena was able to, uh, reference to your name and was gracious enough to reach out to you on Twitter. And that’s how we got to this point in time. And so I just wanted to share that with everyone listening is that you have no, you have no idea how wonderful your friends can be when it comes to asking for help. So, Claie, thank you so much for joining us and being willing to chat.
Clare: Yeah, absolutely. And Junior, if you’re listening, we love you.
Meg: We love you. Oh, alright. Food insecurity. Um, you are honestly one of the best people to talk about this because of your role and I kind of want to open up with that is what exactly is your role at BA? CUFBA, and then, um, how long have you been a part of that organization?
Clare: Sure. Um, so I’m a cofounder and I am the director of the College and University Food Bank Alliance, or CUFBA came out of a desire to make connections. So, you know, I as a good student affairs practitioner, um, I was faced with the need to serve students who are experiencing food insecurity as part of my role at Oregon State University and, um, really didn’t know how to do it. It wasn’t something that they taught when I was going through my master’s program. And so I started searching for materials, professional development opportunities, and really didn’t find a whole lot except for a couple of journal articles. And so I just started Googling, you know, food pantry, college food banks, college hunger, students, and I’m collecting information on anything that I could find. Um, and eventually we ended up happening was I came across the Michigan State University student food bank. Um, and the person who ran that is my cofounder Nate Smith-Tyge. And Nate and I kind of both had this idea that, well, what if we created a professional organization for people doing this work? And that way we could, uh, teach each other and learn from each other and develop best practices or whatever else, you know, the sky was kind of the limit for us. And, um, we, we developed a strategic plan. We went and got a website built and we actually went to, uh, the NASPA, I believe it was 2013 in Orlando. And we presented on the development of this organization as kind of like our coming out party.
Meg: Sure, sure, sure. So I guess a really easy, well, quick question to ask is how many organizations are affiliated as of right now?
Clare: So we are approaching 800 members.
Clare: Um, that is not just colleges though. It’s also partner organizations like Swipe Out Hunger, which is another group that does food insecurity work on campus. Um, we have some systems like the SUNY system is a member. State University of New York and other members that are more, um, kind of like partner affiliates, if you will, rather than institutions. Um, and then that is not the number of food banks or food pantries in the US, that not all of those members have an active pantry. Um, and certainly not all pantries are members of CUFBA though. We would love them to be.
Meg: Absolutely. Well, then, um Clare, my guess, um, I’d like to jump into the, the big question is what does college food insecurity look like on a national scale?
Clare: So on a national scale at this point, there’s actually been a number of studies. Um, the, the kind of group that’s known for their, their work in trying to measure food insecurity is called the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University. And they do what they call the Real College Survey. So every year they partner with campuses across the country to field their survey. Um, and they r- released their most recent numbers. Um, in April they found 45% of respondents were food insecure in the prior 30 days and they found that 56% were housing insecure in the previous year and that 17% of the respondents had been homeless in the previous year. So considering that the average for the nation, when it comes to food insecurity, it usually hovers between 11 and 14% depending on kind of economics and how our country is doing. That’s a pretty big difference, you know, at individual campuses are seeing ranges anywhere from, you know, about 18% all the way up to 63.
Meg: Are there any institution types, cities or areas that are more likely to have food-insecure students?
Clare: I mean community colleges will have, have higher rates. Um, and um, you know, the, this year, the top sheet from the hope, the Hope Study, uh, put every institution together, they did desegregate that data. Um, but I’m not looking at it in this moment. What I will say though is that the numbers at community colleges are higher and um, you know, that sort of to be expected, right? They’re open access institutions. People with lower incomes tend to go there because it’s more affordable. And so, you know, that will, we’ll definitely do exactly what you would think to the food insecurity numbers, which is, it increases.
Meg: Your first NASPA presentation… going back to the first question, you said you did that in 2013 when you put CUFBA together and then you’d been obviously working and talking about food insecurity for a while now, but when do you feel like colleges have started paying attention to this issue? When did food pantries become widespread even?
Clare: Yeah, we, so, yeah, we got CUFBA officially launched in 2013 and at the time we really, I mean I think anytime somebody is, is asking, “Hey, does anyone know about this?” You know, we haven’t felt like we discovered something. Um, the reality is that, I mean, students were food insecure long before we realized that. A colleague of mine, Dr. Rashida Crutchfield at CSU Long Beach likes to say that academics discovered food insecurity or basic needs insecurities on campus like Columbus discovered America. Right? It’s been there all along. You know, we can, we can theorize and we can potentially, you know, do something to kind of determine it – You know, what it looked like before we showed it, studying it, but we really didn’t start studying until, um, or, or paying attention to it until about 2013, 2014. Um, and for me, in my experience, I took this job at Oregon State University in 2011 and it was an amazing job because the students at Oregon State had identified food insecurity and poverty as a barrier to success on their campus. Yeah. The students figured this out and they have a very robust student government who is very active and very creative and that funds all of these really interesting initiatives, um, including developing drop-off, childcare centers, health insurance subsidies. Um, and so they, they worked to get a food pantry going and really said, Hey, yeah, we’ve got all these different services, there’s like emergency grants and all these different things that are kind of bouncing around on campus. What would it look like if we put them all in one spot? Okay. And they decided that would be, you know, a fantastic idea. So they did that and they hired in a full -ime person to work the work that do that work. Um, and that was me. So I was the first full-time person to do the work. It’s called the Human Services Resource Center. It’s still open today. Um, it is thriving today in terms of how it’s serving students. And when I came into it, you know, it was basically a student organization that had gone pro, if you will, or SA pro.
Meg: (laughs) I like what you did there.
Clare: Podcasts are puns for me. Um, there just need to be puns in podcasts anyway.
Clare: Um, so we got this going and the, um, you know, I came into this role and like I said, I didn’t know what I was doing. I actually had been living in my car because I had lost my job during the recession. And so, you know, I just needed a job. I just knew, I was like, Oh my gosh, you’re going to pay me so I can tell you. Oh my gosh, yes, I’ll take it. Um, and so, you know, when I started this work, you know, people weren’t talking about it. Like I said, I went to speak at NASPA in 2012. Four people came, two of them came to tell me that it wasn’t our job to do this work.
Meg: Oh wow.
Clare: So like it wasn’t, you know, I got attention, but not the attention I was looking for. And, um, and so, you know, we, we continue moving forward. I find eight, we start CUFBA, and then in 2013, as we’re certainly rebounding from the recession, media started running all these news stories on homeless and hungry college students. And so we started getting phone calls and emails and the, you know, the press wanted to talk to me and other colleges that were reading, these news articles were calling and saying, Oh my gosh, maybe we have this problem too. Or Oh my gosh, I met a homeless student, what do I do? And so, you know, I was fielding, you know, eight, 10 phone calls a week and, and, um, it was, it was extremely exciting. Um, and very validating, you know, and people started coming. The food bank alliance membership, you know, shot way up. And you know, we definitely went from like 15 to 150, I think in the first two years or something like that. Um, and so we, you know, the was just astronomical and really hard to manage and, you know, more and more institutions started stepping up and saying, Hey, we’re doing this work. Um, and so we started to see it become, I mean, for me it was really interesting because by like 2014, I wasn’t just getting calls from colleges and the media, I was getting calls from graduate students saying, Hey, I’m writing a paper on this issue. You know, like a current topic. It was at the time it was hammering a paper on a hot topic in higher ed. Um, you know, can I interview you? And then, you know, by 2016 it was, Hey, I’ve read everything you’ve ever written. Can I interview you for my masters thessis? And it was, I mean, so, so like, and now it’s great because there are so many people doing it, right? The California state university system has stepped up. The university of California system has stepped up. Um, the, the city university of New York system has stepped up. Um, and just all of these institutions all across the country are developing these programs. Um, and there’s this sort of body of growing research that’s being led by, you know, really incredible scholars. And so it’s just starting to be become much more of, um, a part of the field and a part of the understanding of what it means to be a student or what it could mean to be a student.
Meg: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, and it’s one of those things where I think you have a unique experience to be someone who, you know, whether that’s home insecure, food insecure, whatever you have that needs to then take into the work. now that you’re doing these for people on just this huge scale. It’s… in three years, oh my God. Like that. It’s just lightening fast.
Clare: It was, it really was.
Meg: How does an organization like CUFBA help colleges?
Clare: So we provide resources online. We actually, um, just launched a brand new website that allows campuses to search for other food pantries on other campuses in the area. So you can actually go on our website and you can find model pantries to visit. Um, so know we, we see ourselves as networking connectors we want, we want to be able to provide the type of collegial connection that we were seeking. We want people now to be able to get that. Um, we also provide no-cost phone consultations. We have found though, once we put, once we put forward the resources, like once we put our resources out, um, Nate and I, Nate and I were doing phone consultations, we divided the country, um, on the, at the Mississippi river and I took everything to the west and he took everything to the east that came in. That was like the fairest way, we think, especially especially because of time zones. Right? And he basically took central and I took Mountain and Pacific. He took Central and Eastern. And so, you know, at the time, you know, it’s like I would sit for an hour and I would listen to them tell their stories and I would ask them some questions and I would make suggestions. And you know, I started developing some like basic checklists because, you know, at minimum, I wanted to look at it while I was talking to people. Sure. Um, Oregon State had the pantry already. I didn’t create the pantries. So, um, you know, I actually had to do some investigation to figure out and got going so that I could tell other people. Um, and Nate didn’t create the MSU food bank. That was, that was started in 1993.
Meg: Oh wow.
Clare: So, you know, like we knew how to run them, but we didn’t know how to start them. And, uh, and so we, you know, we, we worked on our way through that and it wasn’t until a couple of years in that my now CUFBA colleague, Brandon Matthews, he was getting his a master’s degree at University of Arkansas, reached out and said, Hey, I’m doing, I’m doing a manual on the university of Arkansas food pantry for my thesis. Do you want it? And we were like, yes, and can you be on our team? And so he joined our team and has been helping to continue to refine and develop resources since then, including some of the partnerships we’ve done, um, both around like toolkits and also around research. Um, so we found that once we started putting those out, we get a lot fewer phone calls. Just people could figure their things out. And now it’s mostly we handle email questions, you know, so like people send us a message and say, Hey, you know, we’re dealing with this issue and let me know. We kind of have a repository of FAQs so we can provide new information back. Some of those are on our website, but like some of them are… it’s, if you put too many FAQ on your website, it’s not useful to people anymore. If at that point you just put your manual out there, which we’ve already done.
Clare: So, yeah. So those are the things that we do right now. Um, we serve to amplify the voices of our other partners like the Hope Center. Um, and their, their research. Like um, the National Student Coalition Against Hunger and Homelessness. We partnered with on our own study, um, we work with Swipe Out hunger, which is a national nonprofit that helps colleges partner with their dining centers so that students can donate dining swipes, to their peers. Yeah. And a number of other organizations like I mean I’m, I can name check them all but it would take a very long time.
Meg: Um, a small shout out to the University of Arkansas and your colleague that worked there because that was where I attended undergrad.
Clare: Oh, no way!
Meg: Yeah. And was my very first experience with the idea… like I honestly did not know what a food pantry was and I just remember seeing things in the background – a flyer, you know, I worked as an RA. Of course, I’m telling people about it but not necessarily using the resources myself. Um, so the birth of this episode has been like what is my experience with the pantries and was first at the University of Arkansas so it’s to know that someone there did really great work.
Clare: Yeah. Their, their uh, their pantry is, is an excellent one.
Meg: Awesome. So proud. Um Clare, what are some of the best ways people are tackling food insecurity and what are ways that they aren’t?
Clare: Well, so it, and this is going to sound almost uh funny coming from someone who c-founded the College and University Food Bank Alliance. But the biggest problem I see is that people opened a food pantry and think they solve for poverty on their campus. Um, and so, you know, we see the food pantry as almost like a gateway drug to everything else. So what the ideal is, in my opinion, is an integrated center like I had at Oregon State. Okay. Um, I now worked for a national nonprofit called Single Stop, which is an antipoverty nonprofit that specializes in connecting people to public benefits like Snap. Um, and we use a… We’re a tech nonprofit, which sounds really weird. Um, but we, we have a, um, a team that builds software and we have an online screening tool that screens, people for public benefits. And then there’s like a case management tool on the back end. Um, and we partner with community based organizations, but we also partner with colleges. And so we teach colleges how to connect students to public benefits. And we do that by encouraging and training them to develop an integrated service model where everything is at a single stop. Um, and so that’s actually, it was, so it was asked where I went from working at Oregon State was… I Actually left there to go to Single Stop and help with their college programs. So the, that, that model, that single stop model, the Oregon State model, and then there’s this a third, a place that this is happening, which is in this integrated way, which are these basic needs centers that are coming… That are, um, happening both in the university of California and the California state university system. Um, and every campus does it a little differently… Even was in Single Stop, like we’ll teach a school. Everyone gets the same training and the same technology, they all use it differently. Um, because my population might have more veterans or I might be in a city versus a rural area. So the resources are different. Um, and so the centers, the goal of the center is to bring everything together. So that could be benefits, access, it could be a campus pantry. Um, and then there’s other things like, um, emergency grants, housing, um, clothing closets, right? Then, you …your job interview, you need to have clothes to do your interview. Um, there’s a college, uh, in Amarillo, Texas, Amarillo College that also has all of, there’s like a lot of their scholarship programs have been folded into their center. And they also have built out this tremendous community and network where, um, they are creating these warm referral channels for students to use services in the community as well. Um, so, you know, there’s just a lot of different ways to slice that. But the best way to address food insecurity is to do it in a multifaceted way and to consider kind of the whole student. Because the reason they might be food insecure might be because they’re also housing insecure. Um, or it might be because there’s a mental health issue, right. So there’s all these different components too… uh, that cause food insecurity is more of a symptom of a bigger issue. Really. Yeah. Very rarely is someone just food insecure.
Meg: I like that. The follow-up question I have then is what are other or some surprising things student affairs professionals may not know about, um, individuals with food insecurity or when it comes to food insecurity?
Clare: Well, well, I think one of the things that flooors people, um, when I first say it and then as soon as they think about it for a second, they go, “Oh yeah, that makes sense” is that there are food insecure students living in residence halls. Um, so, you know, people assume that most campuses, if you live on campus, you have to have a meal plan. Right?
Clare: That’s usually a requirement of living in the residence halls. And one of the things we do find is that, um, lower income students when they’re required to live on campus, they will try and figure out ways to, to keep their costs low and they’ll get the lowest cost meal plan. And don’t always know that that meal plan is really designed for like upperclassmen that are also going to do, um, you know, cook and cook for themselves. Or maybe you know, that there’s a lot of reasons why you have these like tiny meal plans that are for like, you know, five meals a week kind of thing. Um, and so we’ll see students who have these meal plans and they probably could feed themselves for the cost of this meal plan. But the meal plan is only giving them, you know, five, 10 meals a week tops. And so we’re coming across students that are food insecure and living on campus at the same time.
Meg: So interesting to think of, you know, where a student brain goes when it comes to seeing like, Oh this is the cheaper option, but it may not be the best option in the long run and I can’t fault them for that. Um, cause that’s the way that they’re thinking.
Clare: Well, and we know that there are students that aren’t necessarily… Don’t necessarily have the navigational capital for our campuses, you know, so there, you know, we talk a lot about first gen students and the challenges that first gen students might be dealing with. Um, and one of the things that it can be a challenge is that they may not have – for themselves or someone else who has – navigational capital to help them ask or consider the things they need in order to actually, you know, make the most out of it or to get what they need.in those scenarios. And so sometimes you’ll see students that, um, like they’re making these choices, um, with the assumption like, Hey, it’s a meal plan. I’m required to have it. Of course it’s going to feed me.
Meg: Right. Clare, what could an institution do to be truly great when it comes to supporting food insecure students beyond, you know, the pantry?
Clare: I mean, I think that it always starts with understanding your students. Um, the Lumina Foundation put out a, they put out a, a toolkit and guide, um, called Beyond Financial Aid. And the first thing that they tell campuses to do if they’re going to design resources that will kind of augment traditional financial aid is to know your students. That’s their first tenant. So you got to look at your data. You got to look at how many of our students receive Pell, um, or are Pell eligible. How many of our students aren’t filing FAFSA and why? Yeah. Like do we have undocumented students on our campus or international students on our campus or other students that maybe good file FAFSA but haven’t. Um, so the, the, you know, we look at your financial aid data, you want to look at your demographic data at this point, there’s enough information on food insecurity and students that you can start thinking about, well, um, you know, which of my student populations are more at risk? Who should I be serving or asking questions, um, where should I be spending my time? And who is seeing student behavior that can give us information around what’s going on for students today? And that could mean engaging multicultural centers or trio programs. It could mean engaging the faculty. You know, faculty see students multiple times a week, they see them more regularly than student affairs practitioners often do. Right, right. So what does it look like to partner with your faculty? Um, so really understanding the issue and looking at your data and collecting data and asking students is going to be a really critical way of um, developing something that will be really great. That’s what they did at Amarillo College. So they started by asking their students what are the top barriers for you to finishing school here? And they expected these to be kind of what we would think of as like academic barriers. Like, I don’t… I need more math training. I’ve got to go to the writing center and the hours are bad. Right? Like that was kind of the expectation. What they actually found was the top 10 were all in the basic needs categories. I can’t pay for my childcare, my car broke down, I don’t have enough food. I can’t pay my rent. Right. And so they came to this conclusion that poverty was the biggest barrier to their students competing. They would never have done that if they hadn’t asked their students. So the, the programming and the way that they’ve done their work, which involves really I, I would say full scale culture change on their campus is, is a result of asking students, um, you know, so getting that information and then developing an approach that has both long and short term solutions that comes at this from a holistic way. And that is as part, a big a part of the campus fabric as any other service on the campus. Um, you know, we talk a lot about all of these different strategic initiatives that happen on college campuses and they often become these like boutique programs. Yeah, yeah. And, and that, I mean, that was kinda how I felt when I was, when I started at Oregon State was that I had this boutique program. It was tucked away in a condemned residence hall and, and, um, you know, people were really happy we were there because they wanted it and the students to me and very few people even knew about it. And a lot of the students didn’t know about it and we weren’t kind of just a part of what it means to be a student at Oregon State. And so that was one of my goals was, you know, how do we integrate ourselves? How do students find out about this in their financial aid packets? How do we get this into campus syllabi? How do we get this information? Um, we gave out bookmarks at the library. Every student that takes a book out at the library gets a bookmark with our information in it. Right. Um, we did, you know, we would do classroom talks, we would, I then found out from students, we collected data, like, how did you find out about us? And and set up annual trainings with the top five referring groups on campus. So, you know, we would go to the library, which was a huge one, cause they’d see students sleeping in the library all night. And they would find out that that student didn’t have a place to stay. Um, we would, you know, we had certain faculty departments that were, you know, more likely like our human services or health and human services folks we’re sending students our way. Uh, the Dean’s office. The conduct office. Cause I, I stole, I stole something from the cafeteria and now I’m in trouble. Because I didn’t have enough to eat. Um, we got some referrals from residence life, but our multicultural, you know, especially our pride center, um, you know, who often, you know, the, the, the, the person that was running the pride center, I said, you know, that it’s really not uncommon for me to drop by the, the center to grab something in the evening on like a Saturday, cause I, you know, forgot something at the office and to find there are several students sleeping in the basement.
Clare: You know, and, and so we, we started to come across these pockets, if you will, of of, um, a students disclosing. Um, academic advisors and health professionals and counseling professionals are also three groups that are really good to have as allies. Um, and so, you know, to create a multifaceted approach. That’s a long and short term to sort of weave this into the kind of normal de-stigmatized fabric of your campus. Um, and to make sure that that’s all students, the design is student centered. So the students, you need to confer with as many students as you can and then when you start to design it, there need to be students as a part of it.
Meg: Absolutely. I think that’s so important for any, anyone who’s trying to tackle retention, any of those big student affairs, you know, benchmarks that we’re trying to get to as a nation. It has to be everybody’s all in, right. It can’t just be one office’s main mission cause it’s just not how it’s going to work. So I like that. That is, that is where, um, that, that was what you confirmed for sure. Um, Clare, I would love to know for any student affairs professionals listening to this podcast right now, um, who might be hearing this for the first time and want to start something on their campus or want to put more effort into something that’s already there. What, where do they start? Or, you know, what, what advice do you have for them?
Clare: I would say if you want to learn more, the, one of the best ways to learn more is to go to Hope4College.com, which is Gope with a, 4, number 4 hope for college dot com, which is the hope center for college community injustice’s website. Um, and you know, they are a research lab that are generating tremendous amounts of information and data and findings on this issue. So to read up, that’s a great place to go, um, to look at national models that are doing amazing work. So the University of California global foods initiative currently has an entire section focused on basic needs on their campuses. Um, and they have a director of strategic initiatives, Ruben Canedo, that is just crushing it there, um, along with a number of other people in that system. Um, the California state university basic needs initiative, which I’m, I mentioned, uh, Dr Rashida Crutchfield, um, you know, they are doing tremendous work and could be seen as a national model, um, to look at the human services resource center at Oregon state university. Um, if people, and then just start thinking about drilling down on specific initiatives. So yeah, you know, nobody’s going to create a basic needs center from top to bottom in six months. You know, you’ve got to start somewhere. Um, an institution needs to differ find a single point of contact where students can go. Now that could be an office with multiple people, um, who are all responsible for this or that could be a person who is a designee. Um, but that is crucial for students to be able to navigate and find the things they need. Um, so starting to think about that, where is this going to live? How is it going to be and who’s responsible for it? And the most important, I think, factor that I see for like speed and success and longevity of these programs is that you need senior leadership. So, you know, if you are a program coordinator or an assistant director of residence life or an academic advisor, um, and you are sort of in that entry level work, you’re probably the one that’s dealing with the students today. Those students are sitting across from your desk. You know, you’re talking with them in your meetings. Um, they may be working for you and you are best positioned to help them share their stories, not to share their stories yourself. But to help them share their stories however they want to with the people that have the access to the money and that have the ability to get a space for you… That have the ability to say, to speak or write something into existence that wasn’t there before. Um, that can open doors for relationships with your foundation. So you can raise money that can make announcements at division wide meetings to start integrating this into the fabric of the institution. Um, so finding the, that leader that can help be sort of that access champion is really important. Um, and you know, often I find that people will say, Hey, I went to my, I went to my VP and my VP said, now this is really an issue on our campus. That’s when you got to go back to know your students…. Collecting the data, look at who’s collecting the data. There are two guides out there on how to measure food insecurity, one from the CSU basic needs. Um, and one from the Hope Center. You know, people pick it up. You, you’ll go out and survey your students, there’s information on the questions you can ask. There’s information on how to conduct the surveys or join the Real College survey which happens every fall that the hope center fields and you can find, find information on realcollege.org for that. And then you know, the food bank Alliance is CUFBA.org… C U fba.org and if you need someone to answer questions or just help point you in the right direction, know we are, we are here for folks to do that as well.
Meg: There. Thank you so much for coming on our show today! I appreciate everything that you’ve said to us and we, it’s been an honor, honestly, to just learn how you started at your journey with food insecurity and the work that you still do now, which is amazing.
Clare: Yeah, absolutely. It’s been, it’s been a pleasure to speak with you.
Meg: You’ve been listening to “Will There Be Food?” with me, Meg Sunga. My guest this week were Joanna Garcia, Associate Director for the Center for Leadership and Service at Florida International University and Clare Cady, Director of Research and Innovation at Single Stop and the Director and co-founder of CUFBA. If you’re low-key obsessed with social media like me, you can follow “Will There be Be Food?” at @HelloPresence on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. For our episode transcript and show notes and more information on FIU’s food pantry, as well as more info on CUFBA, head to presence.io/podcast. Don’t forget to rate us. Subscribe and share with all the friends and let us know what topics you want us to cover next. “Will There Be Food?” is a production of Presence, It’s hosted by me, Meg Sunga. The show is directed, edited, and mixed by our producer, Luke Burton. Our executive producer is Cassandra Corrado. Catch us next week when we’ll be talking about professional ghosting and other scary stories in student affairs.