Samuel Merritt University will open a food pantry on each of its three campuses to ensure that students have access to nourishing food while also offering emergency scholarships to students who need help providing Thanksgiving meals to their families.
“We are committed to assuring that SMU students have everything that they need to succeed in their studies,” said Terry Nordstrom, SMU’s vice president of Enrollment and Student Services. “An important part of succeeding is access to healthy and nourishing food that promotes health and well-being.”
Nordstrom, who made the announcement during Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week, said a survey of incoming students found that one-third of them were worried about having reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food.
To address those concerns, SMU will open food pantries at its Oakland, Sacramento and San Mateo campuses on Dec. 8. Each student food pantry will be stocked with a variety of non-perishable food and be open Monday through Friday during normal campus operating hours. In addition, a fresh produce distribution day will be held during the week of Dec. 11.
With Thanksgiving approaching, SMU has set up an emergency scholarship fund to provide grants of between $100 to $300 to students worried about their ability to afford holiday meals.
Physical therapy student Alison Carrozzi said it can be stressful for students who are struggling to make ends meet.
“I definitely think the food pantry is a good idea,” she said.
Between juggling housing costs and educational expenses, many college students have little money left over for food – a growing problem for college campuses across the country.
The National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness and three other campus-based organizations last year surveyed 3,765 students in 12 states attending eight community colleges and 26 four-year colleges and universities. Consistent with prior studies, 48 percent of respondents reported food insecurity, including 22 percent with very low levels of food security that qualify them as hungry. The prevalence of food insecurity was even higher among students of color and first-generation students.
“Food insecurity among college students is an important public health concern that might have implications for academic performance, retention, and graduation rates,” concluded a University of Maryland study of student hunger published earlier this year.
As many as 500 U.S. colleges and universities currently host food pantries or are considering starting one, according to the College and University Food Bank Alliance.
SMU funds and monetary donations from the campus community will be used to purchase food from local partners for the student food pantry. Donations of non-perishable food such as canned meats, fruits and vegetables as well as peanut butter, dried beans and grains will be accepted beginning on Nov. 30.
Tyler Pruett, SMU’s director of Financial Aid, has been receiving numerous requests for emergency scholarships from students in need, who expressed gratitude for the help. He said many of the students described recent hardships like hospitalized parents, single-income households, and recent unexpected expenses.
“One of the most rewarding things that we do in financial aid is to help struggling students. It is also sometimes heartbreaking,” said Pruett. “I am so glad to be affiliated with a university that has such empathy and compassion for students and acts on it.”