Perhaps one in three U.S. college students was experiencing food insecurity – not having reliable access to food – before COVID-19, according to an October 2020 article in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. The problem has increased since the pandemic began, as college students, along with everyone else, lost jobs and income that may have bought their groceries.
A large number of students at Fort Lewis College are among those who don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
Myths hide food insecurity among students, notes sociology professor Rebecca Clausen, whose field is food justice. One is, “Well, if you can afford college, you can afford groceries.”
It’s just not true anymore, if it ever was, she said. The traditional student who graduated high school and went to college supported by parents makes up only a small percentage of today’s students. Many more are attending on scholarships and student loans.
“They’re making choices: Should I spend money on books or food? Gas money to drive home to see my family or food? No student should have to make those choices to have a healthy, balanced academic life,” Clausen said. “Somehow it’s become normalized that to be a student means you should not eat well.”
Enter Grub Hub FLC, a food pantry Clausen organized as faculty sponsor of the Sociology Club. The program – run by students, for students – offers free food, no questions asked. On various days of the week, Grub Hub offers sack lunches, hot lunches and prepackaged bags of groceries. On Thursdays, students can peruse the Hub’s pantry shelves in Jones Hall, picking out what they want. Grub Hub asks only that students who use the pantry weigh their food before leaving.
Quality of the food offered is high – yes, peanut butter and tuna may be on the shelves, but also fresh vegetables, fruit (including apples from FLC’s farm) and other healthy choices. Local food establishments contribute: Manna soup kitchen, Durango Natural Foods Coop, Bread, Starbucks, Sodexo (FLC’s food contractor) and more. Student volunteers pick up and stock the food. Grants and donations from other sources, such as the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, pay for food grown by local farmers.
Cassidy Arndt, a graduating senior majoring in sociology, has been managing the books for Grub Hub. In February, the pantry gave away 2,467 pounds of food and had 180 patron visits (some may have been repeat visits by students), she said.
Another student volunteer, Derek MacFarlane, has been handling food distribution this semester. MacFarlane, a graduating senior majoring in psychology and sociology, said many students have no transportation, so they can’t access other food resources in Durango. Grub Hub is on campus, so transportation isn’t needed.
V. Barney, a senior majoring in communication design who grew up in Farmington, has been serving as president of the organization for three years. He said he has volunteered up to 30 hours a week and sometimes it’s seemed overwhelming, even with a core group of volunteers.
The payoff has been gaining leadership skills and the gratification of helping others.
“If I can do anything to help neighbors feel like hunger isn’t debilitating their lives, I think I’ve become a better human,” he said.
Grub Hub exemplifies what can happen when people work together to help others – in this case, student volunteers, their faculty guide and Durango institutions. The program has a clear, simple purpose at which it succeeds: to provide food to students who need it.
Our culture often demands proof of need, proof one isn’t “taking advantage” of social services; it questions whether individuals deserve help, Clausen said. That’s demeaning and prevents many people from accessing services they need.
“We don’t have any of that at Grub Hub,” she said. “It’s just students sharing food with students.”