Addressing Student Hunger: The Prevalence of Food Insecurity on Campus

by Ella

Josha Charlery, a senior majoring in studio art, recently shared her experience of grappling with food insecurity while pursuing her education at The University of Alabama. To make ends meet, Charlery turned to the support of the institution’s Student Care and Well-Being program, which provided her with essential items such as meals, detergent, soap, and toothpaste.

Although Charlery is now employed as a Resident Advisor (RA) on campus and benefits from a stipend, she acknowledged the continuing challenges. “Luckily, I’m getting a stipend, but it’s still a little frustrating, especially since I had to come on campus earlier for RA training,” Charlery remarked. The early arrival on campus and the ensuing weeks before the commencement of classes have already consumed a portion of her meal plan swipes and Dining Dollars. Charlery’s stipend only arrived at the end of August, further complicating her access to food resources.


Across college campuses nationwide, the issue of food insecurity has grown, particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle.” According to a recent survey conducted by Temple University’s Hope Center using fall 2020 data, 39% of students at two-year institutions and 29% of students at four-year institutions reported experiencing food insecurity within the past year.


Jean Rykaczewski, CEO of the West Alabama Food Bank, emphasized that food insecurity is a pressing concern for many students, including those at The University of Alabama. Rykaczewski asserted, “What we do know is student hunger is real,” highlighting the efforts of the food bank in establishing food pantries on various campuses, including the University.


Rykaczewski further noted that some larger colleges, like The University of Alabama, initially denied the existence of hunger among their students, citing statistical evidence to the contrary. However, they have since acknowledged the issue.


To address the stigma associated with seeking food assistance on campus, the food bank collaborated with the University to relocate the campus food pantry from the Student Recreation Center to a more centralized and discreet location within the Student Center. Rykaczewski explained, “What we found is that college students don’t want other college students to know that they’re hungry.”

Having personally experienced food insecurity during her college years as a former student-athlete, Rykaczewski emphasized her understanding of the struggles faced by students. “Because of my personal schedule in college and being an athlete, there wasn’t a lot of time to eat; I dropped a lot of weight,” Rykaczewski shared.

Brodie Frew, a senior majoring in biology and chemistry, recounted resorting to food delivery services like DoorDash when campus dining halls were closed. In response to the growing concern, Kristina Patridge, director of University Dining Services, highlighted Bama Dining’s commitment to providing affordable meal options for students.

Patridge also mentioned the “Got Meals?” Program, which collaborates with Student Care and Well-Being to offer students donated meals. Additionally, students can now donate any remaining meal plan balances at the end of the spring term, thanks to a partnership with the Student Government Association (SGA).

Rykaczewski praised the meal swipe donation program as a valuable resource for combating student hunger, explaining that students can exchange donated meals for gift cards with meal credits.

As part of ongoing efforts, Bama Dining is working on accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at Union Market in the Student Center. Patridge highlighted other initiatives, including the Out 2 Lunch program, the UA Student Life Campus Food Pantry, and Beat Auburn Beat Hunger, that aim to combat food insecurity among students.

Rykaczewski observed that students grappling with food insecurity often include first-generation students and those reliant on Pell Grants, who must work to maintain their grants. She noted that as midterms and finals approach, these students tend to experience heightened hunger as they are unable to work as many hours, jeopardizing their ability to cover rent and food expenses.

Charlery shared that at times, she skips meals or replaces them with a simple snack, like a fruit cup, to conserve her limited meal swipes, which total only 125 per semester. The restricted dining hall options, especially during weekends, compound her challenges, as Lakeside Dining Hall and Mary B’s Market and Deli are the only facilities open seven days a week. Without a vehicle, accessing off-campus dining locations becomes even more difficult.

Both Frew and Charlery expressed the desire for expanded dining hall options, including a wider variety of protein, raw vegetables, and fruits, available throughout the day.

Rykaczewski recounted her father’s awakening to the issue of college student food insecurity through his involvement in a local church ministry, which distributed midterm and finals “goodie bags.” Witnessing firsthand the extent of the problem, Rykaczewski’s father recognized the harsh realities faced by students who run out of food toward the end of meal plans.

Bayley St. Clair, a 2023 UA graduate and church property manager for Canterbury Chapel Episcopal Church on campus, highlighted her church’s partnership with the West Alabama Food Bank in operating a client-choice food pantry called Deacon’s Deli. St. Clair praised the program for humanizing those experiencing food insecurity.



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