As thousands of college students prepare to graduate in the upcoming weeks, many of them will be stressed out, deeply in debt, and very hungry according to a new survey from Temple University's Hope Center for College, Community and Justice.
A senior at Lehman College in the Bronx dreams of starting her day with breakfast. An undergraduate at New York University said he has been so delirious from hunger, he’s caught himself walking down the street not realizing where he’s going. A health sciences student at Stony Brook University on Long Island describes “poverty naps,” where she decides to go to sleep rather than deal with her hunger pangs.
It was at a pantry at SUNY Stony Brook where Jocelyn Chen, a volunteer there, spoke of her poverty naps. She said that many students are unable to visit the food pantry between classes, or to go off campus to find cheap food without a car.
“When you’re in class for, like, three hours, it’s hard to concentrate when you’re hungry,” she said. Back at the dorm, she explained, it’s easier to take “poverty naps” than to forage for something to eat. -NYT
According to the survey, 44% of students from over 100 institutions said they had been "food insecure" over the past 30 days.
Lehman College senior Kassandra Montes counts herself among them - having to take out a $5,000 loan this year in order to graduate, while living in a Harlem homeless shelter while attending classes. She says she works two part-time jobs and can only set aside $15 per week for food. Most of her groceries come from the campus food pantry, and she almost always skips breakfast in order to feed her 4-year-old son.
"I feel like I’m slowly sinking as I’m trying to grow," said Montes.
Another struggling student, Calvin Ramsay, accumulated "massive amounts of debt" while attending NYU, and told the Times that "food was a major obstacle -- especially in Manhattan."
Being the first person from his family to go to college, he said he didn’t fully understand how much debt he was going into with his student loans. After two years on campus, Mr. Ramsay said he moved back home to Queens and started to use Share Meals, a digital platform created in 2013 that informs students about free food on campus. -NYT
Ramsay says he will need to borrow around $40,000 more to graduate, but says he's not willing to go into more debt to do so. "Why do I need to go into debt," he asked, "to eat?"
One solution used by CUNY has been to sign students up for SNAP - the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which has helped. The school has also brought in Single Stop USA - a nonprofit which connects individuals with social services. The group, along with other partners, has helped over 122,000 CUNY students, which have received around $3,000 of annual benefits each, according to Single Stop USA national education director, Sarah Crawford.
Other solutions to help hungry students around the country include expanded campus food pantry programs, such as Nassau Community College's NEST (Nassau Empowerment and Support for Tomorrow)
"The role of a campus food pantry has gone beyond just providing food," said Sharon Masrour, an organizer with NEST, who adds that the program is an opportunity for a school to check in on a student's well-being in general.
"It’s now a basic-needs hub," she said.
Programs like Share Meals and Swipe Out Hunger (both of which let students donate their extra dining hall meal swipes to those in need) are helping. Additionally, there’s a national movement to redirect unused food from campus dining halls and corporate events.
Sodexo USA, one of the nation’s largest college dining hall operators, has produced a successful pilot program at Northern Arizona University, where students are alerted about leftovers from catered events. This is now an option to any of the colleges that use its services. -NYT
Keep in mind that once these hungry students graduate, they can add crippling debt and a job hunt to their woes.