Oregon State University community members,
Across the nation, one in eight people struggle with hunger. Close to home, one in six residents in Linn and Benton counties sought emergency food assistance last year. And among those served by local and state food banks, as many as two-thirds say they are sometimes forced to choose between paying for food versus paying for their rent, medical services and utilities.
As the number of people affected by food insecurity grows, it includes individuals who make valued contributions to their communities and others, and increasingly, students on our nation’s college and university campuses.
Nationally, according to recent research conducted by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, 43% of college students surveyed reported that they felt food insecure in the past 30 days. This problem is striking close to home. Of the nearly 2,800 OSU students who applied for food assistance and food vouchers in the 2017-18 academic year, 81% met the federal definition of food insecurity.
The causes for food insecurity among college students are many: the cost of higher education; the share of educational costs that students now pay versus the state; and the cost of housing, utilities and food. The stark reality is that many students balance going to class and working multiple jobs to minimize college debt, and still don’t have enough money to attend class or take a test with the benefit of a recent nutritious meal.
Whatever the reason, the crisis of food deprivation at Oregon State must end. It is not acceptable for this university and for this state to have students in our OSU community that do not know where their next meal will come from.
It’s up to all of us to help address student hunger.
I am committed to ending hunger at Oregon State, and I call upon university leaders, faculty and staff, student leaders and OSU stakeholders to join with me.
With that commitment in mind, I have directed Dan Larson, vice provost for student affairs, to lead this effort to increase the scale of our programs and services starting in fall term 2019 to make a greater impact on reducing food insecurity among our students. We will do so more fully and more prominently than we do today through the good work already occurring at the Human Services Resource Center (HSRC) on the Corvallis campus or through the Associated Students of Cascades Campus Food Pantry in Bend at OSU-Cascades.
Here are examples of what will take place:
Over the summer, University Housing and Dining Services and HSRC managers will develop a pilot program to make available to eligible students food that has been produced in university dining centers, but at the end of a day, otherwise would go to waste. This effort will be implemented in fall term and will be in addition to existing UHDS efforts that provide re-packageable food to Linn Benton Food Share, which then – within state and local health requirements – provides these food supplies back to the HSRC food pantry.
Approaches will be evaluated to leverage university financial aid dollars with food assistance programs such as Mealbux, which provides eligible students with a meal card to use on campus.
Efforts to make students more aware of their eligibility for state and federal food assistance programs. As Oregon’s land grant university, we can help inform more of our own students -- and students attending other Oregon colleges and universities – by increasing communications regarding valuable programs, such as SNAP-Ed – the Supplemental Nutrition Education Program. The goal of this program is to provide people eligible for food stamps and food assistance with information about making healthy food choices within limited budgets – and choose physically active lifestyles. Additionally, this work will make more students aware of how the HSRC can aid students to complete their applications for food assistance.
We will engage with the OSU faculty to increase the sharing and prominence of a basic needs support message statement, such as within course syllabi and OSU websites. Such statements would help direct all students to centers and programs that may help address needs such as food insecurity, mental health services and others.Vice Provost Larson will create a task force in fall term 2019 made up of university administrators, faculty, student government leaders in Corvallis and Bend, students who served through our assistance programs, UHDS and financial aid representatives, and other university partners to develop additional action plans for implementation in 2020.
I am directing Steve Clark, vice president for university relations and marketing, to lead OSU’s efforts to better inform our students and the university community about the benefit and availability of food assistance programs and other services available throughout OSU to address food insecurity.
Meanwhile, leaders within the OSU Foundation are sensitive to the issue of food insecurity, as well as student mental health, and are beginning to discuss how to be part of OSU’s efforts to help address these student needs.
As a community, I call upon us to expand the already impressive culture of caring within Oregon State University. That culture includes the annual Corvallis campus food drive. For example, the 2019 food drive raised the equivalent of 382,000 meals. Of that total, more than $67,000 in payroll contributions were made and another $55,000 was contributed in various food drive fundraising campus events.
These contributions aid the OSU Food Pantry on the Corvallis campus in making a real difference. Approximately 65% of those served by the pantry are college students, and 93% of these households have at least one college student in their family. According to self-reported data from those served at the HSRC, 57% are first-generation students; 56% are students of color; and 158 reported sleeping in a tent, car or homeless shelter in the previous 12 months.
Meanwhile, at OSU-Cascades, the food pantry is supported by donations from the campus community.
I assure you that even greater personal and university engagement in the problem of food insecurity are needed, and I know that our collective efforts will have a direct impact on our students. But it will take OSU’s institutional commitment and our respective individual consciousness and engagement year-round to fully make a difference.
Please join me and Vice Provost Larson by engaging in this effort to end food insecurity among OSU students.
Edward J. Ray