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Food insecurity affects NJ college students

While the image of college students living on a Ramen Noodle diet may be a common cliché, college students are increasingly becoming victims of food insecurity.

Food Pantry
Spencer Platt, Getty Images

Although conclusive numbers are difficult to obtain, Feeding America’s 2014 Hunger in America report estimates that roughly 10 percent of the country’s 46.5 million adults are currently students, including two million who attend school full time. Moreover, close to one third of those surveyed said they’ve had to choose between paying for food and covering educational expenses at some point in the last year.

College students face a two-fold stigma when it comes to dealing with the challenges of hunger on campus, according to Diane Riley, director of advocacy at the Community Food Bank of New Jersey in Hillside. Some students are wary of going to food pantries, especially since the general public thinks the majority of college students are middle class of from wealthy families that provide support.

Some colleges, like Bergen Community College, have begun offering pantry services on their campuses as a way to feed students who might otherwise be too ashamed to go to a traditional pantry.

Lisa Pitz, coordinator of the Center for Food Action at Bergen Community College, said colleges are becoming microcosms of modern society. “We have a lot of adults who are head of households who lost their jobs during the recession, who are unemployed or underpaid, and are looking to reinvent themselves while supporting their families. We also have students who may be living at home, but are trying to work and go to school full time. They have a lot of bills to pay, and expenses and loans and they’re just trying to keep their head above water.”

Some community college students face food insecurity because they are more likely to be responsible for taking care of children, spouses or other family members. Some are part of families that are already insecure about obtaining food. That becomes compounded, said Riley, because the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program often fails college students.

“You have to be working over 20 hours a week if you’re a college student to be eligible for SNAP. If you’re living with your parents, everyone has to be eligible for the program.”
A report from Feeding America in April said 27 percent of food insecure people don’t qualify for SNAP because their income is too high.

Another drawback for college students struggling with food insecurity is that it causes them to make the choice of buying food or school supplies, or buying the cheapest food possible.

“That demographic (college students), I think it’s really hard because they need nourishment and good food to do well in school. Adults are able to be self-aware, whereas college students are up all night and have extreme activities. They often don’t stop and think that food is relating to how well or not they’re performing,” Riley said

If students are coming to school with nothing in their stomachs, Pitz said it will be very difficult to concentrate and complete their school work.

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