“I see a lot of students who don’t know where they’re going to get their next meals,” says Katharine Young, a junior Sociology major at Fort Lewis College. “Since we’re college students, it’s assumed we’re supposed to be poor, without acknowledging that being poor actually has real consequences for academics. You can’t participate fully in your college experience if you’re hungry.”
Young’s experiences are not isolated. Food insecurity impacts schools across the country. Between 20 and 59 percent of college students are food insecure, depending on the campus, according to Kristina Kahl, visiting instructor of Sociology.
Yet these problems remain hidden from broad public awareness, largely because of the stigmas attached to living with food insecurity.
That’s why Grub Hub, a student-led organization at FLC, is tackling issues of student hunger from several angles.
Grub Hub’s primary purpose is to provide free and accessible food to students. The group also aims to destigmatize food insecurity by advancing the understanding of on-campus needs and fostering a supportive community environment. “Our mission is about students helping students,” says Young, who volunteers with Grub Hub.
Grub Hub was started at FLC in 2011 by Sociology Club students who had completed an internship at the Manna Soup Kitchen in Durango. They wanted to continue supporting people dealing with food insecurity, and they learned that many college students would benefit from more accessible assistance. So Grub Hub was born as, essentially, an on-campus food pantry. And it has remained a student-led organization ever since, says Kahl, who is also the Grub Hub’s faculty advisor.
The food pantry-style setup runs Thursdays from 9 to 5 on the bottom floor of Reed Library. Staffed entirely by students, Grub Hub currently gives out 350 to 400 pounds of food each month. Patrons simply come in, select their food, weigh it, and take it home.
The selection varies from week to week, depending on donations from individuals and local grocery retailers, and what food Grub Hub can purchase at best value. But Grub Hub offers more than simple canned goods – they stock seasonal produce, staples like bread and milk, and frozen foods, too.
Because of the stigmas associated with received food aid, there’s no income requirement to use Grub Hub, and its patrons can remain anonymous. “Students on campus have the right to full bellies,” says Young. “So if you’re hungry, if you need something to supplement your groceries, come in and grab some food, no questions asked.”
To preserve the anonymity of students, Grub Hub has not collected demographic information to quantify its impact. The center measures weight of food distributed rather than counting students served. Yet even without hard student numbers, Grub Hub clearly makes a needed contribution to the on-campus community.
Grub Hub is ever evolving, as well. The Spring 2016 semester ushered in the beginning of free hot lunches served to students on Mondays and Fridays with the support of Sodexo, the on-campus food service provider.
“The first day of Grub Hub meals, we gave out 62 hot lunches in less than an hour,” says Kahl. By the second day of serving lunch, the Grub Hub gave out 137 hot meals. “I am confident that the more the word gets out, the more we will serve,” she says.
Young witnesses the need for these services. “I’ve seen the way that a lack of resources pushes my peers out of school,” she says. “It’s really difficult to juggle immediate survival responsibilities with this higher level academic responsibility that sometimes doesn’t even feel real.”
Students at FLC are not alone in this struggle. “Over the last five years, we have seen over two hundred food pantries pop up on college campuses nationwide,” notes Kahl. “And Fort Lewis has a good, strong, diverse population. We need to recognize that with that diverse population comes some struggles.”
Beyond helping at Grub Hub, Young is also working to further the understanding of those struggles with qualitative evidence. As part of her independent study project, she is conducting research to more accurately establish the need and impact at FLC specifically.
“The research is about figuring out how hunger affects students’ academics and senses of self and self worth,” Young explains. “We know what hunger looks like with community members, but there’s not a whole lot of research on hunger and poverty among college students.”
By collecting more concrete information, Young hopes to continue changing attitudes toward food-related issues. “This is a pioneer moment,” she says. “This will create more knowledge about food insecurity at Fort Lewis.”
“Destigmatizing starts with knowledge,” Young adds. “Knowledge divorces poverty and food insecurity from the individual. If we’re able to say to the student population, ‘You’re not alone – a lot of other students are participating in the same struggles,’ I think that is key.”