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Rutgers study finds increased number of students using food pantry

The survey compared usage of the Rutgers Student Food Pantry in 2019 to data from 2016. – Photo by

A 2019 Rutgers survey on food insecurity showed that more students reported using the Rutgers Student Food Pantry in 2019 compared to 2016, said Neal Buccino, associate director of Public and Media Relations for Rutgers University–New Brunswick and Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences.

The survey was conducted over a four-week period throughout November and December 2019, and it took students approximately 5 to 10 minutes to complete, according to the study, “Basic Needs Insecurity Among Rutgers–New Brunswick Students." 

A total of 6,129 students completed the survey, with 5,063 undergraduates and 1,066 graduate students, according to the study. The undergraduates had a 14.5 percent response rate compared to the graduate and first-professional students’ rate of 11.6 percent. 

Survey respondents were compared with the general student population in order to assess the representation of the sample, which was found to be largely representative of the student body, according to the study.

“From the survey, we know that awareness of the pantry has increased from 20.1 percent in 2016 to 66.1 percent in 2019 and that more students report using the pantry (0.3 percent in 2016 (compared to) 3.1 percent in 2019),” Buccino said.

Since March, the pantry has had more than 2,000 scheduled appointments and more than 500 individual users, he said.

“The 2019 survey also explored housing insecurity and homelessness, which is especially of concern during the winter," Buccino said. "Students in need of housing should contact the Dean of Students office for assistance."

He said there are other Rutgers programs that help students meet their essential needs as well. For example, the Dean of Students office provides emergency funds to students through “Market Bucks” vouchers that can be used at the New Brunswick Community Farmers Market from May to October, Buccino said.

“Additionally, the Rutgers Garden Student Farm donated more than $40,000 in produce to the Rutgers Student Food Pantry. (The Rutgers University Student Assembly) and other student organizations have also donated funds for these programs,” he said.

Buccino also discussed the important role that surveys play in helping the University better address food insecurity.

“Surveys provide a clear understanding of the scope of basic needs insecurities among our students, more so than relying on anecdotal evidence from students who seek out help on campus,” he said. 

Surveys also allow for a comparison between the needs of Rutgers students and those of other schools, as well as the ability to see how basic needs insecurities change over time, Buccino said.

“The next steps in the survey cycle involve understanding what the data tell us, communicating those lessons to the campus community and using those lessons to improve our practices,” he said.

In regards to future areas of improvement, Buccino said the team is continually seeking to increase awareness of the food pantry and to normalize students feeling comfortable when asking for help.

Following the 2016 survey, Rutgers allocated more resources to support the food pantry supply, expanded its hours and began a mobile service, he said. The team’s current focus is on responding to and implementing the recommendations from the 2019 survey report, Buccino said.

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