Some college students talk about the “Freshman 15,” and gaining weight when starting school. But for other students, the financial burden of tuition and books often means going hungry. In fact, the US Government Accountability Office released a report recently that quantifies how large a problem college hunger has become.
Annie is one such student who struggles to feed herself many weeks out of the year. She’s studying at UCSF for a health care career and utilizes the Food Bank’s campus pantry. “The market has revolutionized my routine,” says Annie. “I exclusively get my food here. I’m eating healthier and wouldn’t be getting my fruits and veggies otherwise.
“Food insecurity is very real if you don’t come from a family that can provide you with a weekly stipend. Having all this debt, you’re kind of in crisis mode all the time. Many students only eat one meal a day. You can’t study; you’re stressed out all the time; and it has traumatic effects on your body.
“I am undyingly grateful to the Food Bank donors. Because of your generosity, I’m able to eat healthier, take care of myself, and give back by caring for patients. Thank you for investing in my health, so I can invest in the health of others.”
It used to be a joke, or even a badge of honor for some – the tale of the starving college student who survived by eating ramen noodles morning, noon and night. Or the thrifty sophomore who bought a 10-pound bag of potatoes and made it last a month.
Horace Montgomery, Director of the Associated Students program at San Francisco State, has heard them all, and he isn’t laughing.
“There is this perception that if you make it to college, and you have housing and your classes, that you’re fine. But it’s just not true,” Montgomery says. “We have many hungry students on this campus, and it’s affecting their school work, their lives and their futures.”
Enter the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank. Partnering with Associated Students, we set up a pantry on the Northwest side of campus in February – our very first one on a college campus. Within just a few days of opening registration, the 100 participant slots were filled. Plans are in the works to double the pantry’s reach by the fall semester.
The pantry arrived not a moment too soon, with so much research out there that suggests hunger can adversely affect studying habits and physical well-being on college campuses. Amie Williams is Director of the school’s Health Promotion and Wellness program and says they figure that 1 in 3 students on campus is food insecure “and when you’re at a 30,000 institution level, you’re talking about a lot of students with hunger issues.”
Pre-med student Mayrane talks about the constant struggle to make ends meet, especially in San Francisco where everything is so expensive.
“There was a month not too long ago when I was eating once or maybe twice a day, just because I couldn’t afford to buy food after paying all of my other expenses.”
She calls the Food Bank’s new pantry a godsend. The big bag of groceries she gets from the new pantry helps to get her through her busy week. “I love all the fresh fruit, especially because I really want to eat better and feel healthier.”