Young and hungry

Survey shows food insecurity is a problem among Winthrop students

Winthrop University’s Department of Human Nutrition conducted a USDA standard survey among 600 Winthrop students measuring food insecurity on campus. The survey showed that 38 percent of participants have run out of food without having the funds to purchase more and 57 percent of participants said that they could not afford to eat balanced meals.

According to Wanda Koszewski, chair of the human nutrition department, the survey was conducted on over 10 percent of the Winthrop student population, with half of the participants living on campus and the other half living off.

Koszewski said that food insecure students responded to the survey saying that some of the things they did to stretch out their limited funds included skipping meals or eating less.

Results stated that 31.6 percent of students had high food insecurity, meaning that they have repeated patterns of low food access and 20 percent of students had marginal food insecurity, which is a few occurrences of food insecurity. Eight percent of students said that they have lost weight due to running out of food, putting them into the category of extreme food insecurity.

According the the survey, students are at a higher risk of being food insecure if they live off campus and have to work. Students of color are more affected by food insecurity.

Some students have faced food insecurity before they came to Winthrop. Alexis Oliver, a freshman, has been food insecure her entire life.

“I grew up on ramen and Kraft macaroni, so I have never really been secure,” Oliver said. “ I had to work a job this summer and some days the only time I would eat would be the free meal I got from my job. It was always something to be worried about. Coming to college, I still don’t have a very steady income and although we have a lot of food readily available on campus, I can’t afford to pay for food outside of that.”

Oliver said that her financial situation, while better now that she is in college and on a meal plan, still

affects her life daily —  especially when it comes to financing her tuition and meal plan that keeps her fed.

“Paying for college is a lot of pressure on me because I have to make sure that I am getting scholarships and keeping my grades up because financially growing up, we always knew that my mom wouldn’t be able to afford to send me to college and even now she can barely afford to send me $20 every couple of months,” Oliver said. “I have kind of grown to accept it because I always knew money was tight, and I knew that if I wanted to do things, it would always be on me to get things done.”

Other students did not face the issue of food insecurity until they got to college. One student, who asked to remain anonymous, suffers from extreme food insecurity that started when she became a commuter student.

“When I became a commuter, I opted out of the Winthrop meal plan because I could no longer afford it and my tuition,” she said. “Then I became responsible for buying my own groceries, and that’s when things became unstable for me. There is always an uncertainty there: will I be able to afford food this month? Will I be okay this month?”

This student works three part-time jobs on top of a full course load but still has trouble making ends meet, and unlike many young people, she doesn’t have anybody to lean on in times of need.

“I don’t have financial support from anyone in my family, making it even more terrifying and stressful,” she said. “I know they don’t have the means to help me, so I don’t ask. But recently it got bad enough that I asked my dad if he could send any money my way so I can buy food, and he seemed so heartbroken and crushed, telling me he didn’t have any money to even feed himself.”

This student is part of the 8 percent of students who suffer from extreme food insecurity, as she has faced adverse health effects from limited access to food.

“It gets the most difficult when feeling hungry and faint keeps me from being able to make it through my very busy day,” she said. “I feel the hunger pangs and think ‘Dang it, I don’t have TIME to try to figure out how I’m going to get food right now.’ I feel lethargic. I get headaches. I can’t focus in class, thinking only of wanting to sleep so I don’t feel awful anymore. Then I feel depressed. I get stressed and frustrated with my situation. I’m already on the verge of being underweight and I lost probably 5 more pounds when I was struggling the most with food.”

In fact, there are serious negative impacts on the lives of students that are food insecure that go beyond obvious health concerns.

Amy Morris, a music professor at Winthrop, has witnessed these consequences firsthand with the students she teaches.

“If you’re hungry, you can’t focus,” Morris said.

“If you do make it to class, you probably can’t focus and have trouble completing assignments. I think not have food also creates anxiety just in a general sense. Academically that’s the deal —  if you’re hungry your brain is not working the way it should.”

Morris also said that being food insecure can cause students to miss class for a variety of reasons, impacting their overall academic standing.

“I know a student who had to go to Crawford because they were sick from not having food and that makes you miss class and a lot of food insecure students already don’t have jobs and try to pick up more hours to make money to afford food making them either miss class or cut into their study time,” Morris said.

Because of seeing these things firsthand, Morris often will lend a helping hand to food insecure students by giving them some of her own money to help purchase food.

“Part of it is having a personal connection to the students I know and seeing what their potential is and not wanting something as fundamental as access of food getting in the way of what they want to do and be,” Morris said.

Despite the amount of food insecure students on campus, there are not many places where students can reach out to get help. Some say part of the reason is because of the stigma of being food insecure, which prevents these students to ask for help.

“From the students I have talked to personally, there is a lot of shame involved,” Morris said. “I know one student in particular that I gave money to, it took him a couple of months to come and say thank you because he was so ashamed that he needed help. I think shame is a huge factor in people who are food insecure coming forward to whatever currently would help them.”

To combat the issue, there have been ideas for a food pantry on campus or a meal swipe bank where students could donate their leftover meal swipes to food insecure students, but Koszewski said that the shame factor may hinder the food pantry idea.

“Some people are saying that we should do a food pantry on campus but there is a price factor involved in this, but if we look at data, students are reluctant to use food pantries where they can be easily identified,” Koszewski said.      “They don’t want people to know that they are food insecure because there is a very strong negative connotation to going hungry because I think everybody says that this is the U.S. — we are one of the richest countries in the world and yet we don’t have enough to feed our own people? I think that kind of leads to the negative connotation and the pride factor.”

Koszewski said she believes that the best way to solve this issue is through student engagement.

“Whatever it is, it has got to be student driven,” she said. “Getting representatives from the student success center, student leaders, CSL, put a call out to get people to get people together to work to find a solution. It has got to be an effort between the food pantries, the students, the community and the administration is just there to provide them with resources.”

However, the anonymous student struggling with food insecurity said that Winthrop administration needs to take part in providing more resources for students.

“Students don’t know who to go to,” she said. “And I think the responsibility then falls on Winthrop to make sure students know who they can go to to ask for help. Resources need to be established and students need to be made aware of those resources. I have personally found that many faculty here at Winthrop do care deeply about students who face this kind of hardship, even if we don’t already have something in place to help.”

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