Focus on College Hunger – October 20


Author: Eric Williams

When Lisa Whelan and her husband John were students at Western Washington University, there weren’t any programs like Second Harvest’s Mobile Market free food distributions.   

“We would buy (low-cost) ramen noodles and some frozen peas, mix them together and warm them,” Lisa recently recalled. 

That was dinner. 

Those memories serve as some of Lisa and John’s motivation for volunteering at Second Harvest, including at events on college campuses. In early October, Lisa was one of our volunteers at a Mobile Market on the Eastern Washington University campus in Cheney.  

Alejandra and Gabi“We know many college kids are facing hunger,” Lisa said. “And the students are so appreciative of the food they get.”  At that Mobile Market on campus, 340 students came by to get free, nutritious food handed out by two Second Harvest staff, as well as Lisa and six other volunteers.  

While college campuses aren’t the first thing to cross our minds when we think of food insecurity, the reality is most colleges and universities are like EWU in that much of the student body wrestles with getting enough healthy food.

To help fill the void, we have partnerships with several colleges and universities in our region.  We provide food to these on-campus pantries: 

  • Washington State University campus pantry in Spokane
  • WSU Tri-Cities Cougar Cupboard in Richland
  • EWU’s campus pantry in Cheney
  • Spokane Falls Community College pantry
  • Spokane Community College pantry
  • Columbia Basin Community College food pantry in Pasco

We also do Mobile Market events at: 

  • Central Washington University in Ellensburg
  • Gonzaga University in Spokane
  • WSU’s main campus in Pullman

Other Mobile Markets are held in college communities, though not on campus.  Those include: 

  • Walmart in College Place, home of Walla Walla University
  • Spokane Teaching Health Clinic 

In late 2022, the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) surveyed students at 39 colleges and universities across Washington and found that 38.3% of students surveyed reported experiencing food insecurity in the last 30 days. Following that survey, the SBCTC launched a three-year pilot project at four community colleges, allocating $240,000 per year for three years to provide free and low-cost meal plans or food vouchers to eligible low-income students. Those colleges are Columbia Basin College in Pasco, Walla Walla Community College, Everett Community College, and Grays Harbor College in Aberdeen.

Also, the Washington Legislature passed a bill that requires colleges and universities to establish a task force that analyzes student needs and craft a plan to address gaps in food security. 

In 2021, Feeding America examined hunger on campuses. Two key findings: many students are hungry and the demographics of student bodies are evolving. Over the years, the proportion of non-traditional college students has grown and includes students who are financially independent, enrolled part time in school while working full time, or did not receive a traditional high school diploma. Many students aren’t starting college right after high school, with the average age of college students being 26. 

And, Feeding America said, the changing face of the average college student brings new challenges. One in five students is caring for a child, many as single parents. Between rising tuition costs, parenting and working full time, making ends meet becomes difficult. 

“I’m more conscious of how much money I’m spending, especially on groceries and stuff,” Alejandra said during the Mobile Market at EWU. “I think this is great having the food come to us, because I know there’s a lot of first-generation students here that maybe don’t have a car and wouldn’t be able to drive out to (a food bank). So having you guys come here is, actually, like a really great thing.” 

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