Food insecurity status isn’t applied solely to individuals who do not have the means to purchase food whenever they want. A student may be food insecure if they change their eating habits due to a lack of funds, starts cutting meal sizes due to financial issues, starts skipping meals or simply goes some days without eating food.
Food insecurity does not just create health worries for students, as many affected students find it difficult to afford housing and textbooks on top of food. According to a recent expansive surveyon food insecurity in colleges, 64 percent of food insecure students are housing insecure, and over half of these students have reported missing class and failing to purchase certain textbooks due to their financial situation.
On top of that, around 56 percent of food insecure full-timestudents must balance having a job on top of their studies, making it difficult to focus on academics. How does Penn expect food insecure students to fully engage in academics when hunger is a major distraction?
Currently, Penn’s main method of fighting food insecurity on its campus is providing financial aid to students. However, none of the emergency funding organizations listed by the Division of the Vice Provost for University Life’s website are specific to food. It is mind-boggling that despite the size of its endowment, Penn can’t address a serious problem on its campus and forces food insecure students to turn to community organizations and student-run groups.
Several spots on campus — including the Kelly Writers House, the Greenfield Intercultural Center and the Penn Women’s Center, among others — often provide students with meals, while the Hillel Soup Kitchen serves anybody in need.
Notably, last semester two students created a Facebook group called Free Food at Penn where students can inform food insecure students of club events that have free food.
In addition, Swipe Out Hunger Penn — which I admittedly am a member of — is hosting its fall semester donation drive this week, during which students can donate meal swipes from their dining plans to food insecure individuals in Philadelphia. Through negotiations with Bon Appetit, which runs Penn’s dining services, students can now donate up to five meal swipes per person to Swipe Out Hunger — up from three last year — but it’s time for the administration to take the initiative in combating food insecurity.
For starters, Penn could invest in a food bank. Since 2012, the College and University Food Bank Alliance (CUFBA) has helped support the launch of on-campus food banks at around 220 different colleges \and, over the summer, the University of California schools committed 3.3 million dollars towards expanding food pantries and establishing awareness campaigns for food insecurity on their campuses. Food banks and pantries are great resources for hungry students and would be warmly received here on campus.
Another method Penn could use is an official meal swipe donation system similar to Swipe Out Hunger’s model. Last year, Columbia University introduced two great programs: the Emergency Meal Fund and an app called Swipes. The Emergency Meal Fund allows students with more meal swipes than necessary to donate up to six meals a semester while students in need can receive up to six meal vouchers per semester. The Swipes app allows students without meal plans to be paired up with students who offer to swipe them into dining halls, making single-time donations fairly effortless.
While Penn does not need to completely emulate these plans, it certainly has the capabilities to offer some programs to fight food insecurity on campus.
Access to nutritious foods should be available to every student at Penn, but until the administration and student body work together to create resources for food insecure students, the issue is likely to persist, hidden in plain sight.
ALESSANDRO VAN DEN BRINK is a College junior studying economics, from New York. His email address is alevan@ sas.upenn.edu. “Small Talk” usually appears every other Wednesday.