U.S. Food Pantries and The SHOP Help Food Insecure Students

Photo by: Claire Powell
ISU students and faculty/staff members can choose from a variety of non-perishable food, personal care, and household items at The SHOP. With rising tuition rates and an increased need for loans, the food pantry is being regularly utilized by students.

According to American Student Assistance in 2012, approximately 37 million students (and counting!) across the United States have outstanding student loans. Of those 37 million students, 66.5% are under the age of 40. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York estimates that of the whopping $870 billion in total student loan debt, $580 billion comes from American students ages 40 and below.

With the cost of college attendance on the rise each year, students and their families are finding themselves in a major financial crisis due to expenses that range from student tuition to textbooks, down payments for local housing and utilities. As a result, millions of students are turning toward financial aid and loans in desperate need of help. The unfortunate reality is that many students worry about living independently because they simply can’t pay their loans off. And so the big question must be raised, is it worth falling into debt over our own education?

For many students at Iowa State University, student debt is like an ominous black cloud that refuses to stop looming over those who can’t afford to pay for college. Here are some staggering statistics from the ISU Office of the Registrar:

  • Undergraduate Iowa resident tuition (spring 2013): approximately $3,324
  • Undergraduate non-resident tuition (spring 2013): nearly $9,380; almost three times the tuition rate of an in-state student
  • Students in certain majors and both juniors and seniors in engineering, business, agricultural systems technology and industrial technology pay more to attend college than the average student
  • Out-of-state graduate students pay almost three times the tuition of resident graduates while veterinary medicine students pay over five times ($20,695) the tuition rate for in-state students
  • Total expenses include: tuition & fees, room & board, books and supplies, transportation, medical and dental as well as personal/miscellaneous costs

Undoubtedly, financial aid helps lower out-of-pocket costs that students owe, but only those who qualify and can file a FAFSA receive financial aid from public/private sources. While many students work either on or off-campus during the school year, the income that they earn typically goes toward personal expenses such as gas, clothes, rent, etc. while college expenses continue to add up.

Unfortunately, money spent on food is often one of the first things to be cut in order to stay within a college student’s tight budget, especially during tough economic times. While the term “hungry” students doesn’t typically come to mind, many students on college campuses are in need of food assistance and may benefit from an on-campus food pantry.

More than 50 universities (including the University of Arkansas, the University of Central Florida, the University of Missouri) across the United States today have an on-campus food pantry to serve students who are struggling to stretch their limited dollars and may only eat 1 meal per day. At Iowa State University, Students Helping Our Peers (The SHOP) is a student-run food pantry offering free, non-perishable food, toiletry and miscellaneous items to food insecure students.

Approximately 30-40 students visit The SHOP on a monthly basis and it is unfortunate that more don’t utilize this resource. Unfortunately, there is a negative stigma surrounding food pantries and The SHOP is no exception. Some students and staff members are hesitant to admit that they need food assistance or don’t want to come in because they feel as if they aren’t among the “neediest”.

Andrew Doherty, president of The SHOP, estimates that less than half (15,520 students or less of 31,040 students) of the ISU student body knows about the SHOP’s existence on campus. Both students and staff may fear to utilize The SHOP because they may be judged by their peers/co-workers or by the volunteers working at the food pantry. Confidentiality and anonymity of both students and staff members is respected. Only a flash of an ISU ID is required for entry and no additional questions are asked.

ISU students who take advantage of The SHOP typically do so because of the following reasons: low income, a multitude of college expenses, need for food assistance, and ease of The SHOP’s accessibility. Many students prefer to use The SHOP over food pantries in Ames, Iowa because the pantry is easily accessible; The SHOP is conveniently located on the ISU campus and no transportation is required to get there.

The SHOP offers canned fruits and vegetables, oatmeal, pasta, soup and other non-perishable items which can be incorporated into a healthy diet. In order to stay focused during classes and optimize learning, food is necessary to fuel both the brain and body. The SHOP provides food items for all meals in addition to energizing snacks to keep students going throughout the day.

Hopefully more students will become aware of the ISU’s on-campus food pantry and make the decision to utilize their services in the near future, as The SHOP is made possible by its dedicated volunteers, donations from campus/local organizations and most importantly, the wonderful students who use The SHOP during the school year.