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No Hungry Knights Initiative will provide Rutgers students facing food insecurity with paid meal plans

At Rutgers, 1 in 3 students struggle with food insecurity, which often makes it more challenging for them to succeed in classes. – Photo by Rutgers.edu

The Rutgers Division of Student Affairs is currently accepting applications for the No Hungry Knights Initiative, a scholarship that provides partial or full meal plans to students who struggle to afford them.

Kerri Willson, associate dean of students and director of off-campus living and community initiatives, said the initiative was created in 2020 with the support of donors who wanted to address food insecurity —  the inability to consistently access nutritiously adequate food — on campus.

Willson said 1 in 3 students at Rutgers struggle with food insecurity, a ratio consistent with many other universities across the country. Students experiencing food insecurity have basic needs that are not met, which makes it more challenging for them to succeed in their classes, she said.

“If you look at Maslow's hierarchy of needs, we all have these basic needs of food, safety and shelter,” she said. “So the idea is that if those needs aren't being met, it makes it difficult for you to sort of navigate through life.”

Willson also said students’ priority on campus should ideally be to graduate in four years in order to reduce any excessive debt being accrued during their time spent working toward their degree at the University.

Though, students facing food insecurity are more likely to drop out of school before obtaining their degree. This is due to consequent underperformance in their classes or because they owe money, in general, which leads to a continued cycle of poverty, she said.

“For us, addressing issues of basic needs such as housing insecurity, food insecurity, is important in the success of our students,” Willson said. “It's an investment in their future.”

While addressing these issues is critical, she also said there is no simple solution for every student who struggles with food insecurity. It is important to have a variety of tools that can help students individually as everyone has unique needs, she said.

For instance, Willson said the Rutgers Student Food Pantry can be sufficient in resolving food insecurity issues for some students, but not for the students who do not have access to a kitchen. Therefore, being able to enter the University’s dining halls would be more appropriate.

She also said that these solutions to resolving food insecurity for students are only temporary but can help support them within their time at the University up until they graduate.

Willson said one of the major ways for students to help their peers experiencing food insecurity is to engage and promote the initiative on social media. She said that by following these resources and expanding their networks, students can help normalize their peers seeking help on campus.

“A couple years ago, we had a post that was shared on Facebook 109 times,” she said. “The reach was 15,000 people. Over the next two days, we had 40 new people come in to use the food pantry, so I know that the impact students have in terms of their reach is tremendous.”

Willson said it should be made known to students that there are a wide variety of resources available to students struggling with food insecurity around campus and that they are encouraged to come for help.

“It's really key that students know there's nothing wrong with asking for help,” she said. “That we're here to support students and get them connected to resources on and off campus.”


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