This story is part of a Scroll series highlighting hunger in Eastern Idaho.
Nationwide, the College and University Food Bank Alliance reported that over 650 colleges have or were developing food pantries as of September 2018. In the study conducted by the GAO report, “Each of the 14 colleges (they) contacted had a food pantry, with 7 having started their pantry in the past 5 years.”
In a similar survey completed the same year by The HOPE Center, out of the 262 universities/colleges that responded to the survey, 83 percent of them “reported operating a functional pantry currently serving students.”
“These 217 pantries are distributed in 40 states and 199 cities, with fairly even representation by geographic region,” according to the report.
52 percent of those food pantries recognized the student’s need to obtain affordable food on campus and are open more than 30 hours a week, with just a small percentage, 7 percent open once a month.
The College of Eastern Idaho, located in Idaho Falls, provides a monthly food pantry for students, faculty and community members. Natalie Hebard, Foundation Executive Director for CEI, said she sends out an email reminder to students and faculty, reminding them of the pantry’s services.
“I send out communication twice before they come to visit. We send a mass email out to all current students and all employees. Anyone on campus suffering with food insecurity. And it’s open to neighborhoods who live by us,” she said.
The Community Food Basket in Idaho Falls, a nonprofit, provides the food to the CEI campus the last Tuesday of every month, where students can get one week’s worth of emergency food. The maximum amount of people who have visited the pantry on the campus was 25 in one day, said Hebard.
According to the HOPE report, about one in five pantries serves fewer than 100 students per year, while 15 percent serve 1,000 or more.
Last month, Idaho State University’s food service, “Benny’s Pantry,” greeted 968 total customers, 186 of those being completely new customers, said Brooke Barber, ISU’s Director of Orientation, Leadership and Service.
Barber said the pantry sees 80 people a month on average. The pantry was started in 2014 to help alleviate some of the food insecurity on the ISU community and offer help to its students, faculty and staff.
Benny’s Pantry distribution is based on household size, according to ISU’s website, and students can go shopping twice a month for food based on that size. The food is never purchased with university funds; all food is donated or purchased with monetary donations, said Barber.
About one percent of Idaho State community members access emergency food assistance from the food pantry, according to the website.
“We began our response to food insecurity with this pantry, and usage has exponentially increased every year. In 2018, we distributed over 13,000 pounds of food,” Barber said.
This is a more significant amount of food offered than some national colleges. “A significant share 41 percent of pantries distribute less than 5,000 pounds of food annually, but almost one-fifth (or) 21 percent distribute more than 20,000 pounds per year,” according to The Hope Center report.
Barber receives much support from a student manager, who is actively involved in the daily operations and oversight of the Pantry. In addition to that, student volunteers assist with inventory and customer support.
“We have close connections with the Dietetics program at ISU, and those students are frequently required to serve within Benny’s Pantry as part of the curriculum,” said Barber.
In fact, student involvement is very much alive in university food pantries nationally. In The Hope Center Survey, 70 percent of students were involved in or led the creation of the food pantries. 82 percent benefited from staff involvement.
Idaho State University provides its students with its “Bengal Meal Share” program. This program is designed to help students who face food insecurity on campus. Students who are involved in the program are able to donate 10 meals per school year from their own meal plan to students in need.
According to the report by The Hope Center, just over two-thirds of campus pantries have a website and 63 percent utilize social media to connect to students.
Both the Bengal Meal Share program and Benny’s Pantry are heavily advertised by the ISU staff to inform hungry students of the resources they can use.
“We advertise these two programs through social media, campus emails, flyers, sandwich boards, table tents, etc,” said Barber.
There are other means at which university students at Idaho colleges can obtain food without having a food pantry.
Boise State also offers a meal share program, which is located on their website.
“In partnership with Campus Services and Aramark, the Meal Assistance Program provides no-cost meals to Boise State students facing food insecurity. Recipients will receive 10 meal swipes to be used within a two-month timeframe,” the website said.
It is unknown whether BYU-Idaho provides such services for food insecurity. Brett Crandall, of University Relations, said he did not have an official statement from the school about these matters.
“We are very unique in that these types of needs are handled through ecclesiastical leaders,” he said.
Community food pantries in Rexburg near the university also provide and fill some of those student hunger needs. The closest food pantry is located inside the Family Crisis Center, which runs every Wednesday and Friday. This provides food for anyone that can provide proof of being a local resident. The mobile food bank is another resource BYU-I students can use, as you don’t have to be a resident to obtain food there.
For more information on studies conducted about college food insecurity, visit The Hope Center webpage.