Monday, April 15, 2024

Here’s how TNCC is tackling food insecurity among their students

The food pantry at Thomas Nelson Community College is stocked with shelf-stable food items all year long. (Melanie Occhiuzzo/HNNDaily)
The food pantry at Thomas Nelson Community College is stocked with shelf-stable food items all year long. (Melanie Occhiuzzo/HNNDaily)

HAMPTON — While being food insecure is a national problem that affects people of all ages, the demographic often overlooked is college students.

A 2016 study by the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, where they studied 3,765 students in 12 states attending eight community colleges and 26 four-year colleges and universities, showed that 48 percent of those students reported they were food insecure.

Of those surveyed, 25 percent who qualified as having very low food security were community college students compared to 20 percent from four-year schools.

The study defined food insecurity as the lack of reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food.

They say it is common at colleges and universities across the country, potentially undermining the educational success of thousands of students.

Thomas Nelson Community College is trying to change that.

Determining the need

The food pantry at TNCC has been open since September 2017 and has been steadily serving an average of 300-400 students per month, said Richard Hurst, TNCC’s Disability Support Services coordinator.

Hurst had heard from a reply-all chain that professors were reporting students going without food to pay their bills for both college and living expenses and in some cases were buying groceries for their students.

TNCC has a foundation that gives mini-grants to organizations on campus so Hurst took his plan there and received a mini grant of $5,000.

Those grants are funded by the campus community and even out of some professor’s pockets.

Hurst’s next step was to partner with the Virginia Peninsula Foodbank to get the food he needed to keep the pantry stocked.

Karen Joyner, the foodbank’s executive director, reported that since starting in September 2017 TNCC’s food pantry has purchased 18,000 pounds of food which is equivalent to nearly 15,000 meals.

TNCC can shop at the foodbank’s warehouse for 19 cents a pound so right now the majority of the food in the pantry comes from the Peninsula Foodbank, Hurst said.

The number of students served has remained steady, he said.

“The major issue today is student’s debt,” Hurst said.

He said a lot of the students who attend TNCC are supporting families and working full-time jobs so when they run short on funds they’ll skimp on food.

He said he thinks food insecurity among college students is often overlooked because people don’t think of them as being poor.

It’s a hidden need, he said.

Students can grab a snack courtesy of the Care Team on their way to and from class at the Office of Student Services. (Melanie Occhiuzzo/HNNDaily)
Students can grab a snack courtesy of the Care Team on their way to and from class at the Office of Student Services. (Melanie Occhiuzzo/HNNDaily)

Anybody in the community can access the food pantry.

It operates under an honor system and is mainly staffed by volunteer students.

The only tracking system in place is the sign-in sheet which is how the food pantry tracks how many people are using it on a monthly basis.

On a national scale

While TNCC’s food pantry is the first-of-its-kind on the Peninsula, the issue of food insecurity among college students is catching national attention, Hurst said.

U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Edward J. Markey, Patty Murray and Debbie Stabenow asked the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on food insecurity at American colleges and universities in February 2017.

“Sacrificing food for education can undermine a student’s educational goals and create barriers on their path to obtaining a certificate, degree, or credential,” the senators wrote in their letter to the GAO. “This situation raises concern and deserves greater scrutiny.”

The media team at Thomas Nelson Community College designed the logos for the food pantry. (Melanie Occhiuzzo/HNNDaily)
The media team at Thomas Nelson Community College designed the logos for the food pantry. (Melanie Occhiuzzo/HNNDaily)

TNCC’s food pantry has done well enough that they will be opening a second one this month on the Historic Triangle Campus.

To find out more about TNCC’s resources click here.

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