Cal State tackling food security, homelessness

Since April 2015, the California State University Office of the Chancellor has been funding research regarding homelessness and food insecurity among CSU students. Chancellor Timothy P. White, announced that the research was to be extended with a second phase.

According to a newsletter from White, systems need to put in place across every campus to ensure that students are supplied with support when they need it, in order to achieve success.
Across the 23-campus CSU system, only 11 campuses have programs in place to aid students struggling with hunger and shelter. Sonoma State University, is not one of those.. Some campuses, such as Chico State, have already created campus food pantries and have implemented other methods of providing nutrition to students in need.

“Through our partnership with Center for Healthy Communities, 620 students have applied for CalFresh and over 50 percent have qualified for benefits,” Wildcat Food Pantry Founder Kathleen Moroney said. “We have had students visit the Hungry Wildcats Food pantry 531 times and distribute Veggie Bucks to 128 people, enabling more students to avoid hunger.”

Moroney also explained that one of the biggest hurdles in the fight against hunger on campus, is a general disbelief that a problem exists and a lack of resources. However, the community support that came along with the development of the programs was enough to encourage Moroney’s efforts.

“I’d say, building partnerships within the college community as well as your local community is key to maximizing your efforts,”Moroney said. “We started with a food pantry, but it soon turned into a collaborative effort of campus-based programs whose goal is to improve student success through the provision of supplemental food, nutritious meals, government-funded food benefits, research-based education and single-point-of-contact referral services for students experiencing food insecurity, hunger and poverty.”

The second phase of the research being done will focus on gaining more in-depth information from students, earning funding to create programs, and creating program policies, according to the Chancellor’s newsletter.

The data, however, is being self-reported by students who are asked to participate in the survey, which means some figures have the potential to be skewed.
It is still undetermined whether or not this effort will be system-wide across all 23 CSU campuses, or simply aimed to boost existing campus programs.

“The aim of the study is to assess how widespread the issue of hunger and homelessness is on CSU campuses. This is being done with the goal to launch campus-based intervention programs to support student success and degree completion,” Interim Manager of Public Affairs, Elizabeth Chapin said.

In the first phase, results of surveys showed that 21-24 percent of students experience food insecurity, and 8-12 percent live in an unstable housing situation. On top of that, only 14 percent of students had knowledge of available support services on campus.

However, on the campuses with food security and shelter aid available, students are playing a vital role in the success of those programs.

“We also use student volunteers as needed to help with Pantry projects. Often a class will help the Pantry with fundraising, food donations or donated time. Students have been incredibly generous in contributing to the Pantry’s success,” Moroney said.

By using other CSU campuses as examples, Sonoma State could set up a very successful supplemental food program.

Many campuses that already have them in place, are learning about how to improve upon their models lessons that we could learn from.

“We are looking at the programs that are out there, seeing what may or may not work here at Sonoma State University.

So it is still early in the stages, but we are researching it,” Director of Dining Services, Lisa Andresen said. “As we go down this road, it would be my hopes that if we started a program, we would work in conjunction with the Associated Students.”

Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor at The University of Wisconsin, published a study in Dec. 2015 about the same issue on community-college campuses. Her findings show that the issue certainly exists outside the CSU system.

According to a new survey of more than 4,000 undergraduates at 10 community colleges across the nation, half of all community college students are struggling with food and/or housing insecurity.

Fully 20 percent are hungry and 13 percent are homeless,” according to the ‘Hungry To Learn’ study, performed by Goldrick-Rab.

The majority of the issue was that many students wouldn’t buy enough food for the month, and run out of a budget for more.

It wasn’t that they didn’t have access, but that they couldn’t afford it. However, the CSU Office of The Chancellor assured that tuition would not be affected, and that the research is important to future student success.