Food insecurity is something that college students in the United States face, according to a repeated study done by Trellis Company’s Student Financial Wellness Survey. To combat the issue, the University of Indianapolis launched UIndy Food Pantry, which offers students, faculty and staff the opportunity to grab non-perishable items, according to the UIndy food pantry website. It also says that the pantry is located in the basement of the Chapel, and all items are provided on a first come, first serve basis.
As reported by a 2022 study done by the Trellis Company, three in five college students experienced an instance of insecurity within the past year of the study being conducted, whether it was regarding food, housing or homelessness. Additionally, food insecurity also made students more likely to experience housing insecurity. According to the study, 30% of students were both housing and food insecure, which jeopardized their mental and physical health, along with academic success.
Additionally, in the study, out of 89 institutions who participated, 80% had at least one food pantry on site. However, 46% of the student respondents said they either did not know or did not have a food pantry on campus. In the same vein, 19% of those who experienced food insecurity responded to having gone to a food pantry in general.
According to UIndy senior nursing student Kamya Finan, she and a group of nursing students chose this project for their community service class they are required to have for their curriculum. Their role was to get the word out that the pantry existed, while stocking and refurbishing the existing space by removing the old food that was in the pantry. They also participate in working with the community garden, as well, to provide fresh produce to the UIndy community and those on campus, Finan said
Not everyone is able to go to college and be financially secure at the same time, Finan said, so she hopes people are able to be aware of the food pantry since it would have been beneficial to her during her freshman year of college.
“I started my freshman year. I didn’t have a lot of money, and if I would have knew that the food pantry was available to me that would have helped more during freshman year,” Finan said. “ I feel like a lot of people come to school, and everyone doesn’t come from money. So like having an option where we could go somewhere and get items to feed ourselves and get hygiene items and stuff like that, that would have benefited a lot of students.
According to UIndy senior nursing student DeAni Dunigan, the food pantry is very beneficial to the campus community because UIndy is considered a food desert. That means that a variety of healthy food options are not available and accessible in the area, said Dunigan.
“Our campus is actually considered a food desert,” said Dunigan. “A lot of people don’t know that. So a food desert is actually where there isn’t access to healthy foods such as fresh produce or due to lack of transportation because it’s not close enough. I know you can say ‘oh we have a Kroger,’ but that’s only one store compared to other neighborhoods that have multiple grocery stores that offer healthy options. So because of that, we have things like the pantry or the community garden as a resource for the campus to have those foods.”
Dunigan said she understands that as college students, it can be difficult to spend that much money on groceries, especially if you are trying to access healthier options. Due to this, she thinks the pantry is helpful as it allows access to non-perishable food items at no cost to students.
“So the pantry I feel like is very beneficial because it has a variety of options, not only just canned goods, but it has some of those healthier snacks,” said Dunigan. “It gives you a way to buy groceries without dropping $100 each time. So I know for myself as a student, when I lived on campus it was very hard to find good food. Yes, we have the student center, but if you’re trying to be a little bit healthier, going grocery shopping can cost as much as what’s in your bank account. So having a food pantry here where you can buy the same things and only have to pick up a limited amount of stuff from the grocery store is really nice because versus 100 bucks you’re probably spending like $30 to $50 on whatever else you need.”
According to Finan, reserving a spot to access the food pantry resources is by appointment only. When going to the food pantry site, one can request an appointment spot, through an online form. The form asks a few questions such as whether you are a student, faculty or staff member, how many people in your household will need access to the food, and what your preferred time of pick up is.
If students want to get involved in donating, the food pantry holds canned food drives in various locations across campus, Dunigan said. According to the UIndy food pantry site, they could use non-perishable food items such as beans, rice, granola bars and canned fruit as well as hygiene products such as dish detergent, deodorant and personal care items.
Additionally, Finan and Dunigan hope that getting the word out and making the food pantry more accessible to students also helps to remove any possible stigma surrounding the idea of receiving free aid or going to a food pantry may hold. Recognizing that it is hard to have a job and be a student at the same time, but it is okay and important to take advantage of the resources campus has to offer. If people want to help, they can donate, get involved, promote it, and remove the stigma, Dunigan said .
“It’s ok that you get free items,” Finan said. “The world today is crazy and inflation is crazy. It’s kind of hard to go to school and work at the same time. Sometimes that doesn’t happen for everyone, depending on how hard school is or what type of job you have. Transportation also plays a factor in that. So having that there for you, it’s ok and it’s ok that you go and it’s ok that you get those items because it’s there for you.”