Food insecurity and where to seek help


Quoc Huy Ngo, Feature Editor

ERIE, Pa., March 30,.2023 – Over the last few years, the cost of tuition and course materials has risen significantly, but the real situation is worse than that. Numerous studies show a surprising number of college students struggling to secure their basic needs, including food.

Research shows that 34% of students experienced food insecurity at some point during their time at college, according to the Hope Center.

The US Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as the lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle. The combination of food insecurity and college stress could generate detrimental effects on students’ performance, such as lower GPAs and completion rates.

Among college campuses, many students might have no choice but to push nutrition to the very last position of their consideration list.

“I think it (food insecurity) is a serious issue that lots of people don’t really consider. People with food don’t really think about those who don’t have it,” said Adam Liu Chen, a Gannon student. “Probably on every college campus, you might find people who don’t have access to food.”

To deal with high tuition fees and skyrocketing inflation rates, many students have no choice but to tighten their budget on food and meal plans. To make their food-dollar stretch, many college students tend to choose low-quality food that contains a higher component of added sugar, refined grains and added fats.

“I think food insecurity is an issue, as there are no good options to get fresh, healthy food anywhere directly near campus,” said Eli Stroh, a Gannon junior majoring in applied exercise science.

Food-insecure students are more likely to be financially dependent, living off campus or working while attending school. Freshmen are particularly vulnerable to these factors since they need more time to adapt to the new environment. Additionally, many students might don’t have the privilege of owning a car. While public transportation could be insufficient, their daily meals are heavily dependent on walkable spots, such as the on-campus cafeteria or local restaurants.

“Without a car, students do not have a cheap option for good food sources,” Stroh said.

In the absence of consistent and comprehensive federal policy options, many universities have found their own way to alleviate this problem. Several Erie-area colleges and institutions have implemented different solutions to keep their students full, including on-campus food stores.

In 2019, Gannon University has introduced Store-Uknighted, an on-campus store that provides free food and basic hygiene products for students. The purpose of the store is to make students meet their needs, as well as to reduce the stigma surrounding this topic.

To Sara Lichtenwalter, Social Work Director and the Store-Unknighted supervisor, the Store-Uknighted is not a “pantry” but indeed a “store” where students can come and select their own food and hygiene products. The meaning behind this specific term is to respect the shopper’s dignity and to enforce the same experience as any regular store.

“Respect, confidentiality and dignity of every student are paramount,” Lichtenwalter stresses on the motto of the store.

The Store-Unknighted was started by Social Work student Shayla Jones (2018 Gannon grad), with a drawer of food in one of Gannon’s Offices. As a single mother who had experienced hunger and homelessness firsthand, Jones was an amazing coupon clipper and shopper for sales and shared her skills with other Gannon students experiencing food insecurity.

“Shayla was relentless in growing her resource drawer into a closet of food and supplies. When she brought her interest to the Social Work faculty we adopted the program and formalized her work,” said Lichtenwalter.

“She then named the large closet in the Social Work Student Lounge “Store U-Knighted.” Within the past 14 months, we have expanded Store U-Knighted to an entire room adjacent to the social work dept,” Lichtenwalter share the inspirational history of the store.

To reduce the shameful stigma around this topic, Lichtenwalter and her team have accommodated Fresh Friday and donation drives.

“Fresh Fridays offer a fresh meal and fresh produce for all Gannon students and a tour of Store U-Knighted to raise awareness among all students. Not just those experiencing food insecurity,” said Lichtenwalter.

As an effort of the Social Work Program to support the Gannon community, Social Work students play a major role in maintaining the store while raising awareness about this topic among the student body.

“Social Work students comprise most of our volunteers,” Lichtenwalter said. “We have been supported by the Gannon community including but not limited to student-athletes who have sponsored multiple food drives and faculty/staff of Gannon who often drop off donations.”

Students who need help can set up an appointment with Lichtenwalter in her office (1214 Palumbo Center) or via email at [email protected].