EDITORIAL: Food insecurity opens important discussions about Rutgers' role in New Brunswick
As individuals struggle with hunger, we must commit to working in our community
Food insecurity is a significant issue that affects New Jersey residents and one that should not be overlooked. In fact, 1 in 5 of families with children in New Jersey experience food insecurity. This problem is even more pronounced at Rutgers. A 2016 study led by Cara Cuite, an assistant extension specialist in the Department of Human Ecology, for example, found that approximately 1 in 3 students at Rutgers struggle to afford food.
These statistics emphasize the prominence of this problem while also urging us, and the University, to take action and aid struggling students and families. While these concerns call for increased legislative action, there are efforts going on around the Rutgers area that we should all be aware of and should encourage the University to participate in similar initiatives.
Right on the College Avenue campus, for example, the College Avenue Community Church is spearheading the Two Fishes Brunch program, which is offering Rutgers students and their families free meals on weekdays for the remainder of this semester and into the spring semester.
The church has a history of helping the Rutgers community. For example, they have provided resources, ranging from coronavirus disease (COVID-19) tests to counseling services, to students. To sustain and improve these actions, Rutgers students can volunteer at the church to assist in their mutual aid projects. Another organization, the Rutgers Student Food Pantry, provides resources for students as long as they provide their Rutgers ID cards.
If these smaller organizations can tackle such large issues, Rutgers should be doing more as a large state university with greater capacity to help and a larger scope of networks or resources to provide students with.
While the University has some initiatives that focus on giving back to the community, more can be done. Currently, Rutgers students can donate up to 10 guest meal swipes at the end of the semester that will filter back into the community and help individuals experiencing hunger.
The University ought to expand this program to include regular meal swipes and there should be a clear formula to understand how such donations are used. The donations could be translated into financial support for food banks or could be expanded into directly giving food or other items to pantries.
It is also important to mention that sometimes it can be alienating to experience food insecurity, so students and individuals more broadly might be embarrassed to admit their challenges or to ask for help. Thus, Rutgers should help broadcast initiatives that are geared toward helping the community.
Simply sending an email blast would make students who experience hunger feel heard and also make them aware of the resources that are available to them.
These actions would signal that Rutgers is invested in the community and their students. More broadly, such a course of action would clearly demonstrate that there is significant attention being given to food insecurity. It would forcefully help materialize the University’s commitment to building a "beloved community."
An important element in confronting hunger is ensuring access to quality food that is nutritious. If individuals do not have access to fresh produce and otherwise healthy food, there are significant consequences health-wise.
Students at Rutgers might not have easy access to grocery stores. Though there are some, such as the Fresh Food Market or the Bravo Supermarkets, for instance, students generally do not know about them or cannot easily get to them. The Fresh Food Market is located on Hamilton Street, near the College Avenue campus, while the Bravo Supermarkets is located on George Street in New Brunswick.
The University should better communicate where supermarkets are. Regardless, there should be an increase in the number of investments dedicated to modes of transportation that make it easier for students to get to grocery stores. Whether this is an expansion of the bus system or the implementation of a new shuttle, Rutgers should consider ways to bring students to supermarkets and fresh produce.
Another alternative could be to host farmer's markets on College Avenue a few times a year. This way students have access to fresh produce right on campus, and it can inspire them to remember the importance of a nutritious diet, like how there are farmer's markets in Highland Park and on the Cook and Douglass campus.
Ultimately, issues of food insecurity speak to how we exist in the community. There are multiple ways in which we can work together to come together and support each other. If we become more involved members — both at Rutgers and within New Brunswick — we can uplift as many individuals as possible and make the entire community stronger as a whole.
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