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EDITORIAL: Food pantries are only the beginning in addressing food insecurity

Food insecurity among Rutgers students is alarmingly high, and no number of Giving Tuesdays is going to fix that

Food insecurity among students is a growing issue, especially due to the pandemic. – Photo by Unsplash.com

Giving to charity is one of the many traditions people across the world engage in as the holidays draw near. This past week was Giving Tuesday, a global charity event that happens the Tuesday after Thanksgiving each year to raise money for various charities, among which is the Rutgers University Foundation.

The Foundation “raised more than $54,000 from a total of 794 donors ... to help combat food insecurity for Rutgers students across all campuses,” according to The Daily Targum.

While there certainly is something to celebrate in the wake of a successful charity event that will no doubt benefit countless people in need, the magnitude of this event should leave you wondering why so many people, including college students, are left to depend on the goodwill of others to get by.

“A fall 2019 survey of nearly 167,000 students nationwide found that 39 (percent) of students at two-or four-year schools had experienced food insecurity in the last 30 days,” according to Forbes. The article goes on to say that the situation has gotten significantly worse in the pandemic.

Food insecurity is a problem with many comorbidities. Those struggling to put dinner on the table have a 257 percent higher risk of anxiety and a 253 percent higher risk of depression. Those who are food insecure are also likely to suffer from a slew of medical issues. Students who are food insecure are more likely to drop out.

At Rutgers, more than one-third of students are food insecure, which is three times higher than the rate of food insecurity in New Jersey. Moreover, food insecurity disproportionately affects minority students, first-generation students and those whose families cannot help financially.

Food insecurity among college students is so high due to “limited financial resources, decreased buying power of federal aid and rising costs of tuition, housing and food,” according to BMC Public Health.

In many states, including New Jersey, college students must fulfill more criteria than the general population to qualify for SNAP benefits. In 2018, only 2.2 percent of Rutgers students used SNAP. As Rutgers students, we are no strangers to increasing tuition and housing rates and off-campus rent costs that are entirely unjustified.

Many students who are food insecure do not reach out for help. The Hope Center reports that 52 percent of students did not apply for any support programs because they did not know how.

Rutgers Student Food Pantry is an option for students on campus and one that should be more widely used. Likewise, off-campus food pantries like Five Loaves Food Pantry and Christ Church Food Pantry provide students in need with food.

Another reason for food insecurity on campus is a lack of access to grocery stores within walking distance from on-campus housing. Without a car, many students resort to corner store groceries, which lack the nutritional value of fresh produce. Food insecurity becomes coupled with unhealthy meals.

While sponsoring food pantries on and off campus is necessary, it is only a bandage measure to a much larger issue. Measures need to be taken statewide to lower the cost of higher education, increase the minimum wage for students on campus and prevent students from becoming food insecure in the first place.

Steps are already being taken to address this growing concern — New Jersey is 1 of 4 states that have allocated funding to universities for the purpose of alleviating food insecurity.

A study conducted in 2018 on food insecurity at Rutgers proposed that the University take measures to educate faculty and administrators on food insecurity to better support students and also create a food insecurity workgroup to further study the issue and develop solutions.

Rutgers should reconsider some of the financial burdens it places on students from campus fees to the prices of textbooks. Students should not have to sacrifice basic necessities for a college education. Moreover, measures must be taken to address the lack of access to grocery stores across New Brunswick, for both students and New Brunswick residents.

While big picture changes must be made incrementally, you are not powerless to help your friends and fellow students. If you know someone who is food insecure, and you are in a position to help, share a meal or groceries, and ask what you can do to help.

That said, you are not limited to only helping those you know. Donate grocery items to local food pantries and local charities, volunteering where you can. An issue as widespread and complex as food insecurity will not disappear overnight, but with consistent effort, it will go down.


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 153rd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.


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