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New grant aims to address student food insecurity at Worcester State

July 19, 2023
By: Nancy Sheehan

The story of food insecurity at Worcester State is a familiar one and, sadly, it is shared by college campuses across the county. It has been called a ‘silent epidemic’ of people not having consistent access to enough food to live a healthy life, and it disproportionately affects Black, Latine, Indigenous, and Pell eligible students.

To address this critical concern, Worcester State has received a $75,000 Hunger Free Campus Initiative grant from the state, to be administered by Professor Adam Saltzman of the Urban Studies Department’s Urban Action Institute, and Dean of Students Julie Kazarian, vice president for student affairs. The funding arises from the American Rescue Plan, a federal program which allotted money for cities and states impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Numerous studies have shown that supporting food access can ensure that all students have an equitable chance at success in college. The root causes of student food insecurity are complex and include financial insecurity, housing insecurity, work or family obligations, and student loan debt.

At Worcester State as elsewhere, food insecure students are more likely to be financially independent, of a racial or ethnic minority background, living off campus with roommates, working while attending school, or receiving a Pell grant.

First-year college students are particularly susceptible to these factors as they transition from high school to college and explore their newfound autonomy in a college setting.

Data from a 2017 survey about food security included 682 graduate and undergraduate Worcester State students, or 10% of the student body. The survey found that 34 % of students were food insecure and 27% were unable to afford a balanced meal within the past month. More than one in three didn’t have enough to eat. Additionally, it was learned that 15% of students were housing insecure, and three percent were homeless.

This data also showed that Black and Hispanic students were statistically more likely to be food and housing insecure than white students, and that student GPA was statistically related to food insecurity. The more food insecure the student, the more likely they were to report a lower GPA.

The COVID-19 pandemic amplified pre-existing social inequalities in hunger, nutrition and health, as noted by the recent White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health.

Worcester State’s new anti-hunger grant will help ensure that this epidemic is silent no more.

The grant will be used to support an 18-month effort to strategically address food insecurity on our campus. The plan calls for using a multi-pronged approach to explore the feasibility of, and to prepare for, an affordable campus market set up as an EBT retailer; creation of campus spaces where students can prepare and consume their own food; and a plan to sustain these efforts after the grant funding period.

The project will explore ways the campus community can provide for students’ immediate need for affordable fresh food while also developing long-term solutions for equitable access to healthier and more affordable foods for all students.

To that end, the grant will look at campus infrastructure, federal food assistance, food recovery and donations, education and awareness, and community food production and marketing. Innovative linkages will be developed between the for-profit and nonprofit food sectors.

To honor and value the university’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and justice, this funding opportunity will aim to provide a clear roadmap that will show how the university can provide affordable and highly nutritious food and spaces to prepare foods for all students in need. These two elements will need to be provided on a regular and consistent basis so the program has a lasting impact.




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