Nearly 40,000 Anchorage residents struggle with food insecurity, or “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods,” according to Feeding America, the nation’s largest food pantry network.
At UAA, 31% of respondents are noticeably food insecure, according to a recent survey taken by around 5% of the student population conducted by two faculty members.
To help decrease that percentage, the university provides a number of resources for students in need. The Student Health and Counseling Center, or the SHCC, is home to the Emergency Food Cache, which provides bags filled with a three-day supply of food.
Each bag contains easy-to-prepare food with a long shelf life, including peanut butter and jelly, crackers, macaroni and cheese, hearty soups, canned meat, nuts, oatmeal, granola bars, hot cocoa, Emergen-C and microwavable rice packs. The food is given out in reusable grocery bags for students to keep and also comes with a list of on-campus and community resources. The SHCC also offers a vegetarian food bag option.
Items in the bags are either donated from on-campus food drives, monetary donations or purchased from Costco by Betty Bang, the health promotion supervisor of the SHCC, with the money donated to the cache’s UA Foundation fund.
This academic year, multiple on-campus food drives collected food items for the Emergency Food Cache, including the Homecoming Canned Food Drive, Seawolf Dining’s food drive and Parking Service’s annual Food for Fines PB&J Drive.
The 2019 PB&J Drive, which offers the UAA community a chance to pay for parking citations with food donations, collected 600 pounds of peanut butter and jelly, enough to make 2,743 sandwiches, Parking Services director Glenna Muncy said. All donations went to the cache.
“When the need really became known and present on campus that the Emergency Food Cache was looking for these donations, it seemed like a natural fit,” Muncy said. “It’s really handy to be able to have a well-rounded program by including volunteers from student groups and clubs, and keeping the food on campus so it can then go back to students.”
Bang, with the help of various on-campus clubs and student employees, puts together the food bags four times a year, 50 at a time for a total of 200. Each of the bags are given to students throughout the course of the year.
Madison Haumschild, a sophomore biology and psychology major and peer health educator for the SHCC, aided Bang in assembling food bags to assist students staying in campus housing over winter break. Haumschild found the experience valuable both for herself and the students utilizing the resource.
“Just knowing that students are going to use this, and that it is something that is needed, it just makes you feel good,” she said. “It’s a benefit that you get when you’re picking up the empty boxes at the end of break and you can see that students were helped.”
There are no qualifications to pick up a food bag from the Emergency Food Cache. Students can simply show their student ID at the front desk of the SHCC and receive a bag on the spot.
Bang expressed her gratitude toward those who donate to the food cache, whether it is directly through the UA Foundation or through food drives.
“We appreciate everyone who has helped and donated. They have done a great service to students and they are greatly appreciated,” Bang said.
The Emergency Food Cache has been a resource since the SHCC began 20 years ago, Bang said. While the mission has remained the same, its reach has broadened and the cache has formed partnerships with other programs on campus, one being University Housing, Dining and Conference Services.
Last July, Seawolf Dining, along with its partner NANA Management, included a new section of its contract that allotted 1,000 no-cost meals, 500 per semester in the fall and spring, for students in need. The program loaded 125 cards with four meals each to be used at the Gorsuch Commons cafeteria. Like the food bags, the cards are available to any student, and can be picked up with a valid student ID at the SHCC, Alaska Native Student Services, the Multicultural Center, First Year Advising, TRIO and the Care Team offices.
David Weaver, director of University Housing, Dining and Conference Services, is a strong advocate for providing resources for students that are food and housing insecure, and emphasizes the impact the cards can have on students.
“Even though it’s just four meals, that’s something,” Weaver said. “The difference between one meal and zero is huge — it’s just huge.”
Weaver said that all 500 of the meal cards are used each semester, and there is a demand for more. The need for the cards affects students’ grades, as well as quality of life.
“For students that are hungry, how could that not affect their academic performance?” Weaver said.
Seawolf Dining also hosted the Swipe Away Hunger Campaign last September where students, staff and faculty with university meal plans could pay it forward with an extra swipe when purchasing food on campus. The campaign added 66 donated meals in addition to the 500 allotted on the meal cards for the fall semester.
Weaver said the meal cards and swipe campaign provide hope for students facing food insecurity.
“We, as a campus community, care about each other. We care about our students and we want them to belong. We want them to feel that their whole person is supported and not just within the classroom,” Weaver said.
In addition to the meal cards and food bags, UAA offers other free resources for students who may face food insecurity, including free soup and grab-and-go sandwiches in the Multicultural Center, Rasmuson Hall 106, every Wednesday, free soup lunches twice a year during finals week and the Daily Den in the Student Union, open from noon to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
The Hunger and Homelessness Support Network, a group of around 25 people, comprised of UAA faculty and staff, students, alumni and community members, is another resource aiming to find more tools to assist students on campus experiencing food or housing insecurity. The group meets on the third Friday of each month at 12:30 p.m. in Beatrice McDonald Hall, Room 220.
To donate to the Emergency Food Cache, visit the UA Foundation website, select “Give Online Now” and make sure to enter #20903 Emergency Food Cache on the “Make A Gift” page.
For more information on the cache and additional UAA resources, visit the Student Health and Counseling Center’s page on the UAA website, stop in their office in Rasmuson Hall, Rooms 116/120 during their hours of Monday through Wednesday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 to 6 p.m. and Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or give them a call at (907) 786-4040.