In recent years, the problem of food insecurity on college campuses has gained national attention, shedding light on a growing challenge faced by students across the United States. The impact of food insecurity has a rippling effect on the personal wellness and academic success of these students, whom, research suggests, are caring for children, are first generation, and/or come from low-income households.
Among students who attend four-year universities, an estimated 41% are food insecure, according to a study released in April by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice.
Students at Niagara University are no exception. Over the years, several offices have regularly and independently assisted students facing hunger, but a new initiative has enabled the university to coordinate these efforts to assist a larger number of students.
Over the summer, a group of university officials, led by Jason Jakubowski, Niagara University’s dean of student affairs, established a centralized student food pantry in the Office of Residence Life. The location was intentional, Jakubowski said.
“We have folks there who are trained to have these kinds of sensitive conversations with students about where they’re at, what they’re experiencing, and how we can help,” he said, noting that they know the resources available both on and off campus, and can connect students with the Department of Social Work and Campus Ministry for additional support, if necessary. Jakubowski added that students who face hunger often are also facing housing insecurity, so this location helps to connect the two issues to better serve them.
The pantry was announced in August through a campus email asking for donations of nonperishable food and basic hygiene items. Jakubowski said that the support has been overwhelming. In addition to donations from members of the university community, alumni began sending packages, and a contest held by the university’s IMPACT office collected more than 200 items for the pantry. By its start date goal of Sept. 1, the pantry contained enough items to open. A flyer promoting the pantry was distributed to students, who began taking advantage of it immediately.
The pantry is currently located in the O’Shea Hall first-floor lounge, and operates between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. However, Jakubowski emphasized that no student will be turned away.
“We are all agents of the food pantry,” he said. “If a student doesn’t feel comfortable coming to the Office of Residence Life, they can see anybody. All members of our community are encouraged to assist in linking students to this resource.”
Other options to assist students facing food insecurity are on the horizon, Jakubowski said, including expanding pantry item offerings, inviting university clubs and organizations to support the pantry with fundraising efforts, and enabling students to donate their unused meal credits to other students.
“We’re really excited about this initiative, which fits perfectly with our Vincentian mission,” Jakubowski said. “I think we are in a good position now to address this concern that students have, and I expect this program to grow as we see more students come to campus. We firmly believe we can address this need so our students can be healthy and focus on what’s important, and that’s academic success.”