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Food Insecurity

May 23, 2022

Right now, many of us are wincing each time our gas tank is creeping towards ‘E,’ and we’re noticing our grocery bills are getting higher. The pandemic is still putting us through our paces, but we are not the only ones feeling the strain on our wallet. This year many of our colleges and universities returned to full-time, in-person instruction. With the return to campus, there were some notable changes amongst our students.

At Susquehanna University, where I work as the First-Year Experience Librarian, my colleagues and I were noticing that the café in our library was busier than normal. In fact, it would have a line out the door from open until close. The café manager shared that they were averaging one thousand meal swipes a week –at the school’s smallest eatery. Like many places, our Dining Services Office was struggling to find enough staff. Students were also still wary of COVID, and they preferred the grab-and-go options of the library café and other campus eateries over the large open and maskless space that was the main dining hall. Students were sometimes waiting two hours for food after submitting an order. Some were putting in lunch orders at breakfast or skipping the lines (and dinner) altogether to make it to class on time. Bottom line? Our students were hungry.

In my role I work closely with Student Life, and I was expressing to one of my colleagues my concerns over student food insecurity. She told me that there were two pantries on campus (one in our chapel and one at the Hillel House), but she lamented that the need was growing beyond what those pantries could provide. Considering the library is located on the opposite side of campus from the chapel, I and my colleague, Tracy Powell, proposed we started a third pantry in the library.

Several shelves stocked with dry food items and personal hygiene items.
Free pantry at the Blough-Weis Library, Susquehanna University

All SU pantries are funded by our Student Care Fund, which is a fund alumni specifically donate to in order to provide students with emergency supplies. Our pantry, like the others on campus, is stocked with lots of thought. Not all students have can openers, some students want to avoid the sodium levels that come with ramen noodles, some pre-packaged items still require fresh ingredients, etc. We try to find cans with tabs or ready-made pasta, and our chapel pantry has a refrigerator with milk, eggs, butter, etc. Our library pantry is also stocked with personal hygiene items. We have everything from soap and shampoo to feminine products, contact solution, acne scrub, and hairbrushes. In order to truly meet the students’ needs, we also have a notepad where students can write down items they’d like to see in our pantry. Many of the suggestions are for more organic items, fresh produce, and so on.

Over the summer, when the campus eateries are closed, students hit the pantries even harder. Those of us who host the pantries are considering making each location have its own specialty. For example, the chapel is the only pantry with a refrigerator for fresh products. The library seems to be turning into the hotspot for personal hygiene items. And, finally, the Hillel House seems to be getting more requests than the others for organic and vegan items. Times are changing and so are our students’ needs. Before we think about how best to teach them information literacy, maybe we should stop and wonder if they ate yet today. How can we nurture the student as a whole person in addition to supporting them in their research needs? What resources exist on our campuses that we can tap into, or where are there gaps in meeting our students’ unique and dynamic needs?

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