Op-Ed: Building institutional support for Zero Hunger

Nicole Hindes, Assistant Director of the HSRC and Damiana Dendy

The lives of students enrolled in higher education look very different today than in previous generations. The number non-traditional students is on the rise. More than seven in 10 higher education students are considered “nontraditional,” meaning they fit into at least one of six criteria: they are independent for financial aid and do not have parental financial support, have one or more dependents, are a single caregiver, do not have a traditional high school diploma, have delayed postsecondary enrollment, attend school part time or are employed full time.

Facing rising costs in higher education and in many cases dealing with the financial strains of nontraditional status, more and more students struggle to meet their needs while earning their degree. One of the most pressing needs for students today is reliable access to nutritious food. The misconception that most students have parents who can cover all colleges expenses can contribute to an under-appreciation of hunger on campus.

Thankfully, there is growing awareness about student food insecurity on campus. More studies are being published on student hunger and there is more news coverage of students struggling to learn while on campus. However, this is not enough. We need to implement long lasting solutions to this problem, and those solutions should be institutionalized.

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Already we see student, faculty, staff and administrators working to provide for students’ needs. Thanks to these efforts, students in need have a place to turn for help. But it’s time college and university administrations provide institutional support for these initiatives. Individually, student groups and faculty members have neither the time nor the resources necessary to end campus hunger. However, with institutional support, they can together address food insecurity efficiently and systematically.

At Oregon State University, solutions have been truly collaborative. Campus dining halls have nutritionally balanced “Makes Cents” meals that cost a very affordable $3-$4 depending on discounts available to students. Student government representatives have used the student fee processes for over a decade to provide funds directly to students so they can buy meals on campus, well over $1.6 million dollars total. Students passionate about sustainability help tend a garden that feeds the campus food pantry. A twitter account (@EatFreeOSU) helps students find events on campus with free food, helping reduce food waste and increase involvement.

Administrators have the ability to address rampant food waste by supporting campus-wide food recovery programs. They can support efforts of students with unused meal plan value give meal swipes to those that go hungry. They can support donation programs that collect rescued food and leftover monetary meal plan value and donate those resources to a campus food pantry. There are plenty of resources that go to waste on campuses that, with the help of administration and a well-thought-out plan, can be redirected to students in need.

U.S. PIRG is advocating for campuses across the country to commit to Zero Hunger. We are calling on administrations to institute systematic and comprehensive plans to end student hunger by cutting waste. With institutional support and collaboration, we can make zero hunger the norm.

Nicole Hindes

Assistant Director, HSRC

Damiana Dendy

US PIRG Zero Hunger campaign