OPINION: Students are going hungry. Mutual aid can help

A painted refrigerator has a sign saying that it has "Free Food".
(Courtesy Megs via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Despite attending some of the most well-resourced liberal arts colleges in the U.S., 5C students are not excluded from the issue of food insecurity.

This issue was highlighted this fall when a member of the mutual aid group Pitzer Community Fridge surveyed students, faculty, and staff at Pitzer College about the prevalence of food insecurity on campus. They found that up to a third of respondents had experienced food insecurity within the previous 30 days — and this data isn’t an anomaly. Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice echoed these results on a national scale in its fall 2020 survey.

To some, this issue might be slightly puzzling — after all, we have institutions in place with the sole purpose of ensuring that college students are fed. And yet, the meal plans offered by these very institutions, the elaborate dining halls and cafés that adorn each of the Claremont Colleges,  not only detract from the visibility of food insecurity but also contribute to it.

Most 5C students living on campus are required to purchase an annual meal plan. But without opting for the highest-priced meal plan offered, students are left at a meal deficit each week, leaving them to fill the gaps with their own means. For example, Pitzer’s 12 meal plan is priced at over $7,000 a year. This heavy price tag leaves many students without the funds to cover the remaining cost of the meal deficit.

One solution might be turning to a local food pantry to bridge the gap. Yet, without a car, nearby food pantries that college students qualify for require lengthy walks, with hours that often conflict with mid-day classes.

Further structural barriers prevent students from accessing necessary aid; governmental institutions have been no more effective in serving as a safety net for college students. Established through government policy, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as SNAP, or food stamps, has exceedingly limited criteria for those eligible for assistance, criteria that often exclude college students.

In an article for The Virginian-Pilot last fall, Dr. Javaid Siddiqi and Dorothy McAuliffe cite that “fewer than 50 percent of students who are eligible for SNAP benefits currently receive them,” illustrating a knowledge barrier that prevents qualified students from accessing resources already in place. Without awareness of SNAP eligibility, the resources directed toward these specific students fail to reach their target audience.

Even for those who are knowledgeable about these resources and able to surpass the obstacles posed by structural barriers, we would be remiss to ignore the social stigma surrounding food insecurity that prevents students from accessing the resources available to them. Such stigma also hinders programs in place designed to aid those who are food insecure, as people shy away from expressing how this issue can be best addressed and sharing the assistance they need. Many other students downplay their degree of need for fear that, by taking advantage of the resources in place specifically for people in their situation, they might be drawing resources away from others they falsely view as more in need than themselves.

There is no radical solution to the issue of food insecurity at the 5Cs. In our current age, we often reach for seemingly revolutionary change, promising to cure the issue at hand in a few simple steps, yet failing as short-term fixes. That’s why addressing food insecurity will require intentional, concentrated action.

A group of 5C students based at Pitzer has established Pitzer Community Fridge, a mutual aid initiative aiming to provide free and accessible food to 5C students and employees. Their efforts will culminate in the placement and continual stocking of a tangible fridge to be housed on Pitzer’s campus. The fridge will act as a micro-food pantry of sorts and is founded on the principle of collective responsibility. It will be stocked by community donations, local community gardens, and a partnership with the Food Recovery Network striving to make accessible food that would otherwise be disposed of by 5C dining halls.

The initiative flourishes from both direct and indirect student involvement. Currently, the group is working with administrators and donors to approve a location for the fridge and establish funding, surveying the community to learn how best to address need, and raising awareness of food insecurity through political education. Alternatively, students can contribute extra items from trips to Trader Joe’s or Target and donate snacks bought using unused Flex dollars.

In deciding on a location for the fridge, the group aims to provide unsurveilled food access while also ensuring the fridge is accessible to all who need it. In order to reduce stigma, they also hope to foster a community around the fridge, including organizing a community meal this semester to celebrate its opening.

The group is using an Instagram page, @pzcommunityfridge, to communicate project updates to the community including regular meeting dates and the future location of the fridge, planned to open by the end of the semester.

The fridge won’t entirely eliminate food insecurity at the Claremont Colleges. It is not a quick fix — students have dedicated months to its establishment and will dedicate many more to its maintenance each year. But it is a step in the right direction, one that might act as a blueprint for aspects of future initiatives. Going forward, their idea is simple: “take what you need, leave what you can.” Maybe, 5C students will be moved to leave more than food: a legacy of efforts to support their peers.

 

Guest columnist Juliane Hyvert SC ’25 is a contributor to the Pitzer Community Fridge initiative and has declared “We’re All In This Together” as the official soundtrack to this article.

Guest columnist Sydney Watson SC ’25 is also a contributor to the initiative and was excited to switch out her regular TSL copy editing hat for a writing one.

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