A while back, there was a story about the food insecurity witnessed at the Pitt-Greensburg Campus. Food insecurity is experienced by many college students on many different campuses.
According to a story by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, “Up to half of the nation’s college students struggle with food insecurity, meaning that they often don’t have access to food.”
Pitt-Greensburg is currently in the pilot stages of developing a meal bank to address this problem.
Dr. McAlister, who specializes in Italian Renaissance art history, realized the need for food security when a student stopped coming to her class. The student was in a car accident which left her car unable to be used. This meant she could not go to work which resulted in less paychecks. In the end, she had to cut her internet bill in order to pay the electric bill. Unfortunately, life events such as this happen to everyone, and for many college students, just one of those events could cause a lack of basic resources such as food.
“That was the year I started talking to other professors and seeing how many students were making choices like that.” Dr. McAlister said, recalling the moment she realized some of the students were struggling to fulfill their basic needs.
Dr. McAlister and other faculty brought the idea of food security to Rick Fogle, Dean of Student Services.
“The concern for food security comes from students going to professors and expressing they don’t have enough money to eat,” Fogle said.
A resident, Madeline Jackson, has struggled to find time to eat on campus due to the scheduled hours of the meal plans.
“I personally dislike the hours, especially during the later times, and the gap between breakfast and lunch where you can’t use the meal plan. I sometimes work until 11 PM, and since meal plan at the Coffee House ends at 10 PM, if I don’t eat dinner before my shift, I’m out of luck,” Jackson said. “Also with when I work and when I have my 11:30am class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, it’s hard to get breakfast or lunch during that slot. Besides those little time slots though, the meal plan hours do work around my class and my work-study schedule.”
Sometimes there are commuter students that do not have any resources for food. In that case, food services will work with the student to create a temporary solution to the problem. Basically, a certain amount of Cat Cash will be provided on commuters ID cards, or a certain amount of blocks will be added on a meal plan for residents for a temporary fix.
Fogle said, “When that has happened before, half the students that were eligible utilized it, the other half did not.”
Why eligible students did not use this option is unknown. It could be a scheduling issue, or perhaps students do not know that help is available, or it could be the stigma surrounding this issue.
“We try to address [stigma] by making it the same for everybody. There is nothing that will draw attention to students using the meal bank,” Fogle said. “If we can use the swiping of a card like everyone else, we try to do that.”
Pitt-Greensburg is transitioning to a meal bank where students who have extra meal plans that they know they will not use, can donate their meals to the meal bank. Then, the students in need would be able to use their Pitt ID card to access the donated meals.
“That’s in place at a few other schools we looked at,” Fogle said. “We’re trying to come up with a way to implement that here. There is a draft proposal right now. Hopefully this month we will have that resolved.”
As for the scheduled times of the meal plan, nothing is in place to fix those issues. Jackson expressed some of the concerns her friends shared with her.
“I know that for most people, the most frustrating thing is the weekend hours the dining hall has. The dining hall opens at 11:30 AM for “brunch” and stays open until 6PM. I know many students who live on campus, stay for weekends, and are early risers. They dislike the late opening of the dining hall because it forces them to go hungry for a couple of hours in which they’re usually accustomed to eating breakfast.”
However, there are a number of students that feel like the scheduled hours of the meal plan help them stay organized. Some students do not use all of their meals every semester.
“That’s the problem: getting people who have the meals but aren’t using them in touch with the people who need them.” Fogle said.
If a student is struggling with food insecurity, he/she could go to food services and speak with Connie Lehman, associate director of dining services. Her email is CLL15@pitt.edu. From
there, students will be provided access through the blackboard system to accept donated meals and it will be taken it off of someone else’s meal plan.
“We’re still in a pilot phase to see what the problems are and how this will work.” Fogle said. “Hopefully by spring break we can roll this out.”
Financial aid would review the student’s record and see if they are eligible for addition aid.
“That is a way to check to ensure the need is real and legitimate.” Fogle said.