The Rutgers Student Food Pantry in New Brunswick has seen the number of food insecure students more than double coming in for meals in the last five months of 2018, compared to the previous two years combined.
Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Salvador B. Mena, in an interview with The Daily Targum in December 2018, said the pantry had received 721 visitors since August 2018, 221 of which are first-time users. A Rutgers survey found that from the pantry’s formation in October 2016 to the end of the Spring semester 2018, there had been approximately 300 students served.
“Many of the recommendations we made in our report have been addressed or are in the process of being addressed,” said Cara Cuite, an assistant extension specialist in the Department of Human Ecology and coauthor of the study that found the initial number.
She said the Board of Trustees' task force on student aid has committed more than $2 million in aid to students in need, with a significant portion earmarked for food insecurity. Increased funding to aid the issue was one of the recommendations of her study.
A food insecurity screening and food pantry referral process is also being developed through Rutgers Student Health. She said the program that began in September is currently being evaluated, with a report planned to be released sometime this year.
Lauren Errickson, the senior program coordinator for Rutgers Against Hunger (RAH), said the need for her group’s food donations to the pantry is growing.
“Because there is an increasingly recognized need among students experiencing food insecurity, RAH has been sending the majority of the food items we receive to the student food pantry since it opened,” Errickson said. Since the pantry’s beginnings in 2016, the organization has sent more than 3,000 pounds of food donations to the pantry.
Errickson said to accommodate the increased need for food donations, RAH will start a new initiative that will place food collection bins in all of the student centers. Rutgers community members will be invited to donate non-perishable food donations to the Student Food Pantry by using the green RAH collection bins near the information desks at each of the student centers.
The majority of food donations comes from the Rutgers community, she said. RAH organizes food drives on all New Brunswick campuses in partnership with collaboration programs and departments. Its signature program is the Adopt-a-Family holiday drive, when individuals and departments within the Rutgers community sponsor a local family in need by donating food items and buying gifts off their wish lists.
This winter, Errickson said RAH plans on organizing food drives at sporting events in connection with Rutgers athletics. There are also food drives planned at the Home Gardeners School events on Cook campus, which collect hundreds of pounds of food donations each spring.
During the summer months, RAH collaborates with Student Affairs to organize Snack Pack, an activity in which incoming Rutgers students package thousands of pounds of non-perishable snack items during the New Student Orientation events for distribution to New Brunswick youth at risk for food insecurity.
Cuite said her survey also found that 1 in 3 Rutgers undergraduates have some degree of food insecurity, as measured by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Household Food Security Survey. This is consistent with national surveys of food insecurity among college students.
“Not all food insecure students need to use the on-campus food pantry,” Cuite said. “And our study found that many students use off-campus pantries. In addition, there are other on-campus food supports available to students, largely through the Dean of Students office.”
Errickson said there may be students who do not know about the food pantry, which is something RAH is trying to change through promotional efforts.
Food pantries are a way for the University to help food insecure students in the short term, Cuite said. But they are not a long-term solution to the complex issue of food insecurity.
“Ultimately it is a lack of money that causes students to be food insecure,” Cuite said. “So additional financial supports for students can help alleviate food insecurity.”
Editor's Note: The Rutgers Student Food Pantry can be located at the Off-Campus Living & Community Partnerships at 39 Union Street New Brunswick, NJ from Monday — Friday 9am to 4pm.