Options available for food insecure students

In the spring semester, sociology majors Rachel Wintz and Nathaniel Chriest used a grant from the Office of Undergraduate Research to conduct a study about food insecurity among UAA students. 454 students, about five percent of the student population, took surveys in a random sampling of four capstone courses and 17 General Education Requirement courses about their access to reliable food sources and their suggestions for campus food availability.

The results of the study showed that 31 percent of people surveyed demonstrated some level of food insecurity.  It also showed that 71 percent of students think food prices are too high on campus and 74 percent want more food providers on campus. But for those in need of a helping hand, the university does offer assistance.

While this university does not have a food bank specifically for students, the Student Health and Counseling Center provides an emergency food cache for those in need. Georgia DeKeyser, interim director of the Student Health Counseling Center, said the cache is meant to provide food for people to last them about three days.

“It designed to meet the needs of a student who’s in some kind of an emergency,” she said.

The program runs on a no questions asked policy. All one has to do to receive a bag of food is ask for one at the front desk.

DeKeyser said, “It’s designed as a one time thing.” However, she said exceptions can be made on a case-by-case basis.

She said bags of food typically contain nonperishable items and a list of resources for free food in Anchorage.  Daryl Young, former health center director, started the program in 2006 after a student fainted and said they hadn’t eaten in days. The program services is funded through donations.

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Administrative assistant Nancy Richmond-Bentley has worked at the health center since the program started and has given bags of food to hundreds of students.

“We know how difficult it is,” she said.

She described most students asking for assistance as being quiet and mum about their situation.

But she said, “At the student health center that’s our mission. We are there to help.”

DeKeyser and Richmond-Bentley both said the need for the service is increasing. Usually, the center makes 48 bags of food per semester and leftovers are donated to a food bank in Anchorage.  But this year, for the first time, they said the center ran out of food about three weeks before the semester was over. DeKeyser said the food bank would like to accept more donations from people, but currently does not have space to store too many donations.

She said if the center had the storage space, it would be able to accommodate more people in need.

The Student Health and Counseling Center is located in Room 116/120 of Rasmuson Hall. For a complete listing of food pantries in Anchorage, visit http://www.foodpantries.org/ci/ak-anchorage.