The broke college student buying cases of Top Ramen to have affordable meals may be a clichéd source of humor, but more and more universities are taking the idea that some on campus might be struggling to afford food, or even going hungry, very seriously. To deal with the issue, over 300 schools have now added food pantries for students – including, last month, George Washington University, a school that regularly pops up as one of the 50 most expensive schools in America.
NPR recently spoke to Tim Miller, Associate Dean of Students for the college based in our nation’s capital, and many of his answers about modern campus life were quite revealing. He cites a survey conducted by the College and University Food Bank Alliance that found that nearly half of the students they spoke to, 48 percent, had faced food insecurity. The big question: How does that happen? What about meal plans?
“So meal plans at college campuses across the country are all very, very different,” Miller responded. “There are some that have a very traditional dining hall, some that have a dining hall and a combination of other options, like an a la carte option, and some, like GW, that actually have a plan that focuses on all the options around the city.” As a result, GW students have flexibility but it also appears they can run out of money. “We also find our students are cooking a lot more for themselves,” Miller points out.
The university’s new food pantry is meant to combat these problems and do so very discreetly. The pantry itself is unmarked. To join, students need an email and a GW card number, but nothing else. “We want to have faith in our students that if they say they need this, that they do and trust them to take what they need,” Miller told NPR. Along those lines, the pantry is set up like a grocery store, not a soup kitchen or a handout of rations. Students come in, pick the items they need and go. Miller describes the pantry as having “an empowering part” to it with students speaking to the idea that it “has helped them focus on what they thought they could be able to do here.”
Miller says that since the pantry’s September 12 soft opening, 147 students have signed up for it – notably well below 48 percent of GW’s over 25,000 plus students. Then again, George Washington is a pricey private school; it may have fewer students struggling with food security than other institutions. But it’s good to know those who are now have a viable option.