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Students advocate to end hunger on college campuses

Woman standing in front of an open refrigerator
Valerie Crowder
/
WFSU News
Haley Gentile, a case manager at Florida State University, oversees the "Food for Thought" Food Pantry on the university's main campus.

Students from across the state will rally at the Florida State Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 26 to raise awareness about the issue.

A group of college students is lobbying for state funding to reduce hunger on campus as inflation drives up the cost of groceries.

“We are lobbying for the Hunger-Free Campus Grant Act,” said Alexis Wright, an incoming graduate student at Florida State University and campus organizer with Student Public Interest Research Groups or PIRGS.

The club’s members have been advocating for the legislation since it was introduced last year.

“It would allow for meal swipe donations, so that students can choose to donate their leftover meal swipes. It would give funding to help build and maintain food pantries on campus,” Wright explained. “It would allow students to use their SNAP benefits on campus.”

The legislation hasn’t yet been filed, but she expects it to get introduced before the regular lawmaking session begins in early March, Wright said. Two Democratic lawmakers filed the measure last year, but it didn’t pass. However, it did get unanimous support in several bipartisan committees.

A group of students standing in a circle and talking
Valerie Crowder
/
WFSU News
Florida State University and Florida A&M University students are working to reduce food insecurity among their peers through the Student Public Interest Research Groups.

“There’s a lot of lobbying we have to do for it. We want to make sure that we get the people who are responsible to say ‘yes’ because there is a huge issue, and it’s an issue that we continuously see with our peers across the state.”

Wright is among several students at FSU and Florida A&M University who are working on the issue through the Tallahassee chapter of Student PIRGS.

Students from across the state will rally at the Florida State Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 26 to raise awareness about the issue.

“Nearly all students who go to college in Florida know somebody who is experiencing food insecurity,” said Alexis Dorman, a sophomore at FSU and PIRGS member.

Similar legislation aimed at ending hunger on campus enacted elsewhere

Swipe Out Hunger is the organization that crafted the Hunger Free Campus Act before its first passage in California. Six states have passed some version of the legislation.

Last year, two Democratic state lawmakers filed a version of the bill for Florida’s colleges and universities, titled the "Hunger-Free Campus Act." It would’ve set up a grant program within the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to fund hunger-free programs, such as food pantries and on-campus assistance with applying for SNAP benefits.

Under the measure proposed last year, eligibility for funding is based on whether a campus offers a food pantry, provides free meal swipes for campus dining halls, allows students to use SNAP benefits on campus and hosts an activity during National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.

“If they do all those things, assuming that the bill’s passed, they would qualify for a grant to help them further expand their hunger program,” Dorman said.

Haley Gentile oversees the Food for Thought Pantry, located on FSU’s main campus. The pantry offers fresh produce, dairy and meats, along with baked goods and dried and canned foods.

“Food insecurity negatively impacts, of course, brain development, health and wellness, but most directly as it relates to college students, GPA, ability to focus and motivation,” Gentile said. “If we want students to come to FSU and get the most amount out of FSU, we have to treat this as a serious issue.”

Any student who’s enrolled at FSU may pick up groceries at the pantry, located on the fourth floor of University Center A, between 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. on Monday - Friday.

“Some of those students are coming once a semester," Gentile said. "Some of our students experiencing homelessness are coming by every morning to get some yogurt because they know they can rely on us to eat breakfast that day.”

More students visiting FSU food pantry amid inflation

About a thousand students stopped by the pantry for groceries last semester, Gentile said. She estimates the number of students using the pantry has increased by about 300% over the last year.

Gentile says students who use the pantry come from all walks of life. Some are international students who don’t qualify for financial aid. Others work part-time while taking classes and need help making ends meet.

“There’s no shame in coming and needing help," Gentile said. "There’s no shame in asking for additional support for navigating the issue if the food pantry alone is not meeting your needs.”

In addition to a food pantry, the campus offers students help with applying for SNAP benefits and gives out dining hall swipe cards credited with three free meals. Students may also use SNAP benefits at one of the stores on campus, Gentile said.

“It’s a multipronged problem,” she said. “We need a multifold solution.”

Copyright 2023 WFSU

Valerie Crowder is a freelance reporter based in Panama City, Florida. Before moving to Florida, she covered politics and education for Public Radio East in New Bern, North Carolina. While at PRE, she was also a fill-in host during All Things Considered. She got her start in public radio at WAER-FM in Syracuse, New York, where she was a part-time reporter, assistant producer and host. She has a B.A. in newspaper online journalism and political science from Syracuse University. When she’s not reporting the news, she enjoys reading classic fiction and thrillers, hiking with members of the Florida Trail Association and doing yoga.