Straight from print: Students battle hunger at AU
Possible food pantry for AU in the works
This article originally appeared in The Eagle’s December 9 special edition.
Students, faculty and student organizations are joining forces to work to create a potential food pantry at AU for students who suffer from food insecurity.
Food insecurity is not limited to those who may go years without access to reliable food sources— sometimes it just means not knowing where your next meal will come from for a semester, month or even just in the next week. The United States Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as "consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year."
Emily Dalgo, a senior in the School of International Service, is the founder of the initiative to bring a food pantry to campus that began this semester. After dealing with food insecurity herself in the beginning of the fall 2016 semester, Dalgo discovered how helpful a food pantry could be at AU.
“[I] was going through a really rough time in the beginning of the semester, transitioning jobs and also my family was unable to help out [financially] for a month. I didn’t really know how I was going to be getting my next meal and it was just a really stressful time,” Dalgo said. “So I talked to faculty members and they also didn’t know how to help me and that was how I realized, and they realized too, that we didn’t have a service on campus that was really accessible for people [when they are food insecure].”
The problem with food pantries in the area is that many require D.C. resident status and are only open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Dalgo said. Most AU students are not D.C. residents, nor do they have time during class or work to go to a food pantry.
Dalgo began the initiative to start a food pantry on campus by creating a survey to get a general understanding of whether there is a need for it based on how others were dealing with food insecurity. Dalgo has received over 400 submissions from the survey.
“Right now over 50 percent have responded and said that at some point of their time at AU, they’ve been food insecure,” Dalgo said. “And food insecurity is essentially just not having access to food at all times and not knowing your next meal.”
College of Arts and Sciences senior Alix Braun agreed with Dalgo on the necessity of creating a food pantry and is working with Challah for Hunger, a student organization that bakes and sells challah for MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, At AU on their Campus Hunger Project. The goal of the Campus Hunger Project is to engage with students and gather data on food insecurity, according to Braun. Once data is collected, the project hopes to create an assessment to tackle hunger on college campuses nationally.
“While hunger and food insecurity [have] serious implications and impacts on the health and wellness of children and adults everywhere, it is particularly unique to battle this issue while in college,” Braun wrote. “Especially at American, where the sense of social justice activism is competing with a sense of elitism and entitlement, the disparity between those who can afford in excess and those who cannot afford at all is palpable. Without a consistent source of nutritious food, students are suffering to survive academically and socially.”
Sameer Chintamani, a senior in SIS and a columnist for The Eagle, agreed as well and wrote about it in an October column for the paper. Chintamani mentioned how the George Washington University opened a food pantry for its students this October, along with George Mason University and the University of Maryland, College Park.
“As college students, we are told to do well in class by ensuring that we are following a healthy lifestyle and making healthy choices when eating,” Chintamani said in his column. “It’s time for a change and for AU to look into the issue of food insecurity at AU and offer a permanent solution, such as establishing a food pantry.”
Additionally, Dalgo has received support from other students, faculty and organizations. Dalgo is currently working with Dr. Fanta Aw, assistant vice president of campus life, to create a case for the administration on establishing a pantry on campus.
“It is clear that this is a social justice issue and that from my perspective, most students shouldn’t be in a situation where they’re having a challenge getting food and not being able to get that,” Aw said. “So whatever it takes on our end to try to meet the short term need while looking at a long term solution, we will look at that and each case is different.”
Aw currently works with those students who suffer from food insecurity by directing students to resources around D.C. and working with the financial aid office, like getting students more financial aid, as well as trying to help students deal with what is creating their food insecurity.
Aw believes that there is more to solving hunger on campus than just creating a food pantry, but agrees in addressing the immediate need and finding out long term solutions.
“I think a food bank will get us to a more systematic way of addressing some of that, but I also have been saying to folks I think we need to be looking at a comprehensive approach to food insecurity,” Aw said. “The food pantry is one element of it, but it’s not necessarily the end all, be it all… And what that comprehensive approach might look like is something that we need to research.”
Dalgo has also received support and is working with Student Government senator and School of Public Affairs senior Jonah Wolff.
As senator, Jonah Wolff emailed the survey to over 3,000 students to create a more concrete case for a pantry. Wolff has past experience working with MEANS Database, a food recovery system to help food banks reduce wasted food from donations, as the organization’s director of public relations.
“The problem of food insecurity is that it impacts students, even at institutions like ours, and sometimes, in fact, especially at an institution like ours,” Wolff said.
Dalgo has also received interest from organizations that deal with food insecurity to become coalition members and facilitate goods or needs to begin this pantry, including Nourish AU, a student organization at AU that combats poverty through social entrepreneurship, as well as Challah for Hunger and MEANS Database.
Dalgo hopes to begin officially establishing the food pantry and getting donations for the pantry itself from students, staff or faculty by the end of the semester. If the food pantry plan continues, Dalgo hopes the pantry is donation based, whether it be through students, faculty or other organizations, student run or nationally.
According to Dalgo, a lot of students would prefer the pantry to be in the Mary Graydon Center, suggesting there might be room for it on the third floor. Aw hopes the food pantry space will allow students to maintain their dignity while being in a common place where any student could find.
Dalgo says she has received concerns about the pantry, but she says most of them stem down to students not being aware of the possible hunger AU students might face.
“People just don’t realize others are going through [food insecurity] because there’s a huge stigma and silence around money,” Dalgo said. “A lot of AU students are very wealthy and very lucky to come from families that can support them and I know that they do appreciate it often, but it also comes from the downside of not seeing other people don’t have that.”
Correction: The original text of this story incorrectly stated that the organization Challah for Hunger baked challah that was donated to the American Jewish World Service. It has been corrected to say "MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger."