Lower GPAs, lower self esteem, and elevated rates of mental illness are the dark by-products of food insecurity on college campuses. Food insecurity negatively impacts 48% of college students across the U.S., but on-campus organizations are taking the initiative to help students in need in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Food insecurity — the disturbance of eating habits or food consumption due to scarcity of financial or other means — impacts about 42 million Americans. On college campuses, the issue is even more pertinent, with up to 59% of college students experiencing food insecurity at some point during their time as a student. The COVID-19 pandemic only worsened the issue, doubling food insecurity levels in some areas of the United States.

“There is inequity built into the system that we (as a country) are not addressing even before the pandemic,” said Michael J. Wilson, Director of Maryland Hunger Solutions. “One of the things that the pandemic has done is not only worsen food insecurity, but it has revealed for some people for the first time how challenging food insecurity is for populations all across our community.”

In response, student groups have quickly adapted to accommodate pandemic-era adversity and are coming up with creative methods of quashing food insecurity among students. Maize & Blue Cupboard is the University of Michigan's response to food insecurity on campus. According to Maize & Blue Cupboard’s website, more than 30% of University of Michigan students battle some form of food insecurity. This resource offers food, kitchenware, personal hygiene products, and other support to students, staff, and faculty within the University of Michigan community.

University of Michigan students are working to help their peers who struggle with food insecurity, according to Brian Devorkin, a sustainability intern at University of Michigan's dining department. Devorkin, in an interview with Spoon University,. emphasized the role that the Maize and Blue Cupboard plays in fighting food insecurity among college students.

“We not only pair all individuals with fresh and local produce, but we also partner with student organizations to implement different programs and initiatives to alleviate stress, concern, worries, etc. for all students who use the cupboard,” Devorkin said. “Overall, we are an educational and food distribution hub.” Devorkin also stressed the importance of on-campus programs that fight food insecurity among college students.

“Everyone deserves access to nutritious and affordable foods,” Devorkin said. “Food insecurity surveys are showing increasing and record numbers for recorded instances of food insecurity. Students are more stressed than ever and facing uncertain and unprecedented times.”

Food insecurity isn’t something that’s experienced on its own; it’s usually accompanied by housing instability, low wages, or other systemic issues like racism and sexism. Kennesaw State University, located in metro-Atlanta, houses CARE Services, an on-campus resource that allows students in need to gain access to food, housing, and support services. Kennesaw State University’s students, like many others across the country, faced heightened hardship due to the pandemic, said Carrie Olsen, CARE Services Program Manager, in an interview with Spoon University.

“The pandemic has increased needs for students,” Olsen said. “Students have classes, tuition, and other necessities to worry about and the pandemic made things harder for them. So knowing that there are programs to help can relieve stress.”

Food insecurity causes a host of problems for those who suffer from it, going beyond simply being hungry. Food insecurity among college students is impacting their mental and physical health, as well as their grades.

“Food insecurity has been shown through elaborate and numerous studies to be linked with higher rates of depression, metabolic diseases, obesity, lower GPA, higher stress, etc,” Devorkin said. “College students especially have so much adversity in their lives, it is only fair that they are given their basic energy needs to help them succeed in the university setting.”

All college students can help combat food insecurity within their campus communities. Carrie Olsen recommends volunteering locally. According to Devorkin, an open mind is an important tool that students can utilize.

“Be open minded and ready to learn!” Devorkin said. “Few people realize how prevalent and pervasive food insecurity is. To end the issue we must first acknowledge the issue. This requires everyone to understand where we are, how we got here, and what experts in the field are saying about how to get out.”