AU’s food pantry hopes to increase student outreach, provide healthy options and destigmatize food insecurity
Advertising and attaining more funding from the University would significantly help The Market, students and officials say
In fall 2020 in the United States, 30 percent of four-year-university students said they experienced food insecurity in the past 30 days, according to Health Affairs, and it disproportionately affected students of color.
The Market, AU’s 24/7 food pantry, is located in MGC 308 to change the largely felt reality of food insecurity for students. The Market has both short and long-term goals to help students and change the conversation around food insecurity as a whole, in addition to providing access to students who may not have Eagle Bucks or remaining meal swipes.
Understanding the needs of students on campus and ensuring that there are healthy produce and food options, as well as setting up different partnerships with organizations at AU is necessary, said food pantry advisory board member Emily Stinneford, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences and the head of marketing and outreach for the pantry.
“[The Market’s] missions are community partnerships with organizations in the greater DC area and providing fresh produce with larger goals of ending food insecurity and decreasing inequality with the understanding that The Market is not the end of the discussion,” Stinneford said.
Collaborations between The Market and other organizations are in the works right now too, such as AU’s Community Garden and 4P Foods, a local and farm-fresh food delivery service, to support their mission of improving the quality of what the pantry offers.
“We have the funds and the means to choose where we are getting produce,” said Stinneford. “We not only provide for students who need the pantry and deserve access to fresh and healthy foods but at the same time [we are] giving back to the community and supporting ethical farming practices.”
However, many students are unaware of the pantry’s existence in part because of the under-discussed topic of food insecurity.
“I think there is a stigma associated with food insecurity, especially at a predominately wealthy, private university like American University. It’s not something a lot of people talk about on a regular basis,” said Stinneford.
Some critiqued the university for contributing to this dilemma.
“The pantry does not benefit a key demographic of American University’s money-making constituency,” said Lily Billotti, a sophomore in CAS who uses the pantry.
Billotti also claims that The Market is not a priority because lower-income students such as herself are not paying full tuition and not monetarily supporting AU meaning the University doesn’t want to support The Market.
“There is no budget approval process, and I am the staff operations manager for The Market Food Pantry,” said Associate Director of Student Engagement Calvin Haney. “As a donation funded operation, The Market Food Pantry is regularly working to balance between the two competing forces of the needs of our student users and ensuring fiscal responsibility with the funds we are provided to ensure we have enough food to cover a given need in the academic semester.”
In the future, Billotti said she hopes to see fliers around campus like there are for other programs (such as student clubs and performances), increased social media presence and for the University and the pantry to listen to students more.
“I don't fault this on anyone working on the program, but I wish they would listen to the feedback form. The pantry, except for a couple of items, isn’t healthy in my experience,” Billotti said. “What we ask for is largely ignored because [the items] are too expensive. So, I think more students would be open to the pantry if the food was healthy.”
One AU student discussed her knowledge and experience of food insecurity including but also beyond The Market.
Zahra Udaipurwala, a sophomore in CAS, said that there is a great spectrum of socioeconomic statuses at AU from students and their level of need for the pantry. Udaipurwala said that the pantry is only briefly mentioned on AU’s website and that she only knows about it because of her friend who uses it.
“Personally, I’ve seen food insecurity with my friends at AU. The fact that it exists and is accessible to students is great but I do know students of color who use it, actually,” said Udaipurwala. “It is not as stocked as you think it would be. It’s very variable depending on the days of the week and time of year it seems. There is little consistency in the type of food you’ll find if you’ll find food there or not.”
A major issue has been the expense of food around the country and at the pantry, but centering on equality and food justice is a priority for The Market which seems to have more means. The Food Justice Symposium is being put on by AU Professor Garrett Graddy-Lovelace and students working in the Unity Coalition and the Center for Environment, Community and Equity.
“[The symposium] is meant to connect people on campus and in the community who are researching or working in food and food justice. There will be a panel and our Market Pantry coordinator and leader Calvin Haney will be on the panel,” said Stinneford.
Food insecurity continues to go beyond campus as well, creating an ongoing struggle for all college students and often many other young adults. This subject is often not discussed because of taboo as well as lack of general resources for this underserved population.
“We will never have the capability to meet the range of wishes that are identified by student users, but over the academic year, we have sought to offer a greater diversity of food items and toiletry resources than in the past,” Haney said. “Our commitment is to continually innovate and meet the needs of our AU students who experience food insecurity. We continue to welcome your feedback and giving.”
“We understand we are a necessary resource right now, but it's really important that we have funding and are able to provide it,” Stinneford said. “We are definitely looking for greater institutional changes in the university and the broader community outside of just having a place for students to have food.”