Combating Food Insecurity: The Food Pantry and Beyond

At Manhattan College the tweet #JasperFoodShare goes out and what would have been wasted food from an over-catered event quickly gets grabbed up at the college’s multicultural center by anyone needing a meal who follows the hashtag. SwipeShare at Massachusetts Institute of Technology allows students on meal plans to donate meal swipes to other students throughout the year, and at Iowa State an infographic is shared on social media that shows the location of every microwave on campus available for public use.

As many as 700 students will show up during the day at the San Jose State University Event Center where student staffers unload fruit, vegetables, poultry, and staples delivered by Second Harvest Food Bank trucks. When a similar arrangement was made between the Greater Chicago Food Depository and University of Illinois–Chicago, the quantity of food delivered to food insecure students increased nearly 80%.

To tackle the mounting food insecurity crisis on college campuses and, in many cases, the surrounding community, while also combating food waste, a range of university offices—student affairs, wellness, student living, sustainability—are moving beyond the traditional food pantry. Using social media to speed food delivery, technology to conduct outreach and deliver services like meal swipe donating, and new types of agreements with regional food pantries and contracted food service companies, more food at more locations is becoming available at less expense and energy.

Two of the world’s largest contract food service companies, Compass Group (owners of Chartwells) and Sodexo, both are involved with campus partners to establish and operate unique ways of combating both food insecurity and food waste like food rescue, donated kitchen space, food swipe sharing, and scholarships to support students with ideas to combat food insecurity.

Couple those efforts with the organizational and networking capabilities of nonprofits addressing the same issues–Campus Kitchens Project, the Food Recovery Network, and the College and University Food Bank Alliance are a few—and higher education professionals speak with some optimism on the challenge of ending food insecurity on campuses.

“The rationale is two-fold,” said Hayden Greene, director of multicultural affairs at Manhattan College. “Address hunger issues by making sure food gets to those that need it and getting to zero waste so you don’t dump food out. I think our challenge now is to connect all of the opportunities.”

By that, Greene means networking all the departments and divisions on a campus—academics, athletics, and others—that in his case represent opportunities where events management does not have access for food rescues.

At the Campus Kitchens Project, which is on more than 60 campuses, the top question organizers get is how to setup a food rescue kitchen where food goes to students. At Indiana University-Purdue University–Indianapolis, the Office of Sustainability joined the Campus Kitchens Project and is part of a unique partnership with Chartwells, the Office of Student Affairs (which runs the Campus Center food pantry), and community partners like the regional Second Helpings nonprofit food provider and the Ronald McDonald House.

Food from Chartwells served at IUPUI dining halls and catering services, two campus gardens, Second Helpings, the IUPUI pantry, and from Ronald McDonald House are repurposed by student volunteers in the Chartwells campus kitchen and redistributed not only to students, but to area missions, shelters, and community centers.

“Overseeing one of the largest Campus Kitchens projects is probably the neatest thing our office does,” said Deb Ferguson, assistant director of sustainability at IUPUI. “Not only are we addressing food insecurity and food waste, but we’ve found it’s also a great opportunity to provide information about other resources students might need.”
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