With a growing population of college students going hungry every year, members of the University of Rhode Island community are attempting to assess how URI is impacted by student hunger.
Under the guidance of the Director of the Feinstein Center for a Hunger Free America, Kathleen Gorman, URI students Catie Chatowsky and Eileen Holovac created the Rhody Outpost Emergency Food Pantry in an attempt to not only aid students suffering from hunger but also assess how high a population of URI students are going hungry.
“One of the things I’m hoping will happen this year with the Rhody Outpost is we’ll learn a little bit more about who are the students who are struggling and what are their issues so we can, as a community at the university, put in place systems to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Gorman said. “We don’t have any sense of the size or the magnitude of the problem and that’s what I’m hoping to get a better sense of this year.”
Chatowsky and Holovac were inspired to create the food pantry after taking Gorman’s Honors Hunger and Poverty in America course. As their final project in the course, they decided to add URI to the growing list of college campuses across the US that offer food pantries to their students in need.
The pantry is open the last Tuesday and Wednesday of every month to students. In order to collect data on the amount of students who utilize the pantry and the true nature of their need, intake volunteers at the pantry collect data from the students via a short information sheet. The questionnaire covers categories such as what the student’s family income is, whether they are in or out of state, if they’re on scholarship and the student’s ID number, all of which are answered anonymously.
“The only requirement is their student ID and if they totally don’t want to do it it’s not required but we’re just saying it will help us get funding for it in the future,” Chatowsky said. “Basically we’re collecting a big data system of the kids who come in to see if the need is still there. We’re kind of testing it this year and then we’re going to assess the need over the summer and make changes for next year.”
Chatowsy and Holovac designed the food pantry as best they could to only attract URI students who are experiencing a need for food.
“We call the food pantry Rhody Outpost Emergency Food Pantry and we specifically used the word ‘emergency’ so that it wouldn’t attract students who weren’t really in need,” Holovac said.
Though Gorman is intrigued to see the results of the data collected at the food pantry, she does not currently think URI is in critical need of a food pantry.
“I don’t actually think it’s crucial for the University of Rhode Island to have a food pantry, probably not the answer you expected,” Gorman said. “What I think is important is that we try and understand the need of our students on campus and that we have a systematic way of helping students who may be in need.”
Gorman knows however that there are students who are in need whether they live down the line and cannot support themselves, live at home with families who are going hungry or are living on campus without a meal plan.
“What I think is important about the food pantry…is that it serves an opportunity for us to maybe get a better handle on whether or not we do have a problem,” Gorman said. “We don’t have any evidence right now that we have a big problem.”
Holovac and Chatowsky plan on reassessing the function of the food pantry this summer after reviewing the data with Gorman that has been collected. Though there is no current evidence that a large population of URI students are going hungry, Gorman has plans for big changes at the university if evidence is found.
“I would want our university with the president and the provost and student affairs to meet to talk about what do we do about this,” Gorman said. “It is completely unacceptable that students who are trying to get a college education are going hungry.”