A graduate of Kennedy-King, one of the City Colleges of Chicago, Cindy Alvarez is 42 and has five children; she is the first in her family to go to college. When she graduated in May, she was also Kennedy-King’s valedictorian.
But Alvarez was also a frequent customer and an employee at CCC’s food pantry. Regular and free access to food played a huge role in allowing her to focus on her studies.
“It was very exciting to have the ability to go to school, but at the same time it is an extra pressure on the budget,” she says. “I saw the food court and the campus restaurants, but I could not afford that. I used the food pantry like many of our adult students do because we have to go home and feed our families.”
Alvarez is not alone. A 2019 survey from Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice found that 45 percent of student respondents from over 100 institutions said they had been food insecure in the past 30 days.
According to a report by the National Student Campaign Against Hunger & Homelessness, of the college students who are food insecure, 53 percent reported missing a class, 54 percent missed a study session, 55 percent opted out of extracurricular activities, and 25 percent had to drop a class due to hunger. The report also found that 57 percent of black students reported food insecurity, compared to 40 percent of white students.
Most solutions to food insecurity among college students focus on two areas: increasing access via food banks or pantries, food scholarships, and implementing swipe-sharing programs and benefits apps. The second involves changing underlying policy, like expanding the National School Lunch Program and adjusting eligibility for SNAP benefits.
Advocates emphasize that both lanes — food access and policy — must be pursued to mitigate the crisis. “Any effective approach has to be holistic,” says Liz Accles, director of Community Food Advocates, the nonprofit that achieved universal free lunch for all public school children in New York City.