Fall 2023 Issue:

Think Piece

Securing Food for
Hungry Students

Hungry? Grab an apple, carrot sticks, or a yogurt. Or maybe it’s time to sit down to dinner—roast chicken, mashed potatoes, steamed fresh vegetables, and a salad perhaps? Most of us in the United States enjoy three full meals a day, snacks, beverages, and the occasional dessert. Others only imagine such bounty.

By Dr. Nicole Loyd, Chief Operating Officer, Executive Vice President, and Dean of Students;
Mr. Greg Meyer, Dean for Community Wellness; Illustration by James O’Brien, Fall 2023

In 2021, 10.2 percent (1 in 10) of US households were food insecure at least some time during that year, according to the Economic Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture,* which monitors food security in the United States. Food insecurity means not having reliable access to nutritionally adequate food, usually due to not having reliable access to an adequate income.

The reality is more grim for college students. Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, which conducts the nation’s largest assessment of college students’ basic needs, learned through its fall 2020 survey* that 34 percent of college students had experienced food insecurity in the 30 days prior to the survey. Student populations most affected by food insecurity include those from lower-income homes, first-generation students, and racial and ethnic minority groups.

Effect on Academic Performance
Research shows that hunger disrupts concentration, degrades sleep quality, and can exacerbate depression and anxiety. Any of these outcomes inhibits learning. And the consequences can be dire.

A long-term study conducted at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health looked at a nationally representative sample of 1,574 college students from 1999 through 2003 and found that 15 percent were food insecure. Researchers then tracked the educational progress of all 1,574 students from 2015 through 2017. After adjusting for other factors known to be linked to higher or lower educational attainment, the researchers found that those in the food-insecure group were 43 percent less likely to graduate from college and 61 percent less likely to achieve a graduate or professional degree.

SNAP for Support
Some food assistance comes from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides benefits to families and college students who don’t have the resources to buy the food they need. COVID and the accompanying job losses increased food insecurity in the United States, and the government temporarily expanded eligibility for SNAP, bringing an estimated 3 million students into the program. With the easing of the pandemic, beginning July 1, 2023, that expansion has begun snapping back state-by-state to pre-pandemic levels.

In the US House of Representatives, however, momentum is building around making sure that all eligible students receive SNAP benefits.

In January of this year, Rep. Mark Takano of California and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon (who has said that she accessed food assistance when she was in college) introduced the Opportunity to Address College Hunger Act as an amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1965. This amendment would require all institutions of higher learning that receive grants for their work-study programs to notify students receiving work-study aid that they may be eligible for SNAP assistance and to explain where to go to find more information, confirm eligibility, and access SNAP benefits. As of August 11, 2023, the amendment had 70 cosponsors.

Eliminating food insecurity also requires effort on the ground, and many campuses across the country, including Moravian, have established food pantries.

Research shows that hunger disrupts concentration, degrades sleep quality, and can exacerbate depression and anxiety. Any of these outcomes inhibits learning. And the consequences can be dire.

Mo’s Cupboard
“When a Hound calls, the pack comes running.” So in 2018, as it became clear that more and more students were going to bed hungry, Moravian opened its on-campus food pantry—Mo’s Cupboard. That year, 22 students benefitted. Five years later, 529 students accessed Mo’s Cupboard a total of 7,732 times—that’s a 2,300 percent increase!

Here’s an overview of the students we serve:

  • 70 percent have a parent who is a college graduate (30 percent are first-generation college students)
  • 21 percent commute to campus
  • 70 percent are white
  • 3.0 is the average GPA of users

Mo’s Cupboard resides in the Student Life Suite in the HUB. Using the card reader, students can access the cupboard any time the HUB is open, including late nights and weekends. At first, the pantry offered food and some toiletries. Over time, cleaning supplies, school supplies, and other living essentials were stocked on the shelves.

In spring 2022, a mini-grant funded the purchase of a large freezer for a back storage room, which allowed us to start purchasing subsidized food items in bulk from the Second Harvest Food Bank. We also formed partnerships with other local organizations including The Factory on the south side of Bethlehem, and in the summer of 2022, Moravian was designated a Pennsylvania Hunger-Free Campus.

Our mission is to remove the financial barriers for students to allow them to focus on their classes and coursework. To that end, we also purchase textbooks, classroom supplies, gas cards, ride-share cards, bus passes, and clothing—essentially anything students might need . Mo’s Cupboard even has a regalia closet so graduating seniors unable to afford their robes can participate fully in commencement. Just this past summer, an alum from the Class of 2020 dropped off their regalia for the cupboard. We love to see alums paying it forward.

Since its founding, Mo’s Cupboard has relied 100 percent on the generosity of donors to fund its operation. Only a few hundred dollars in 2018 launched this initiative. This past year, we received more than $12,000 in cash donations. Many of you reading this are responsible for that success—thank you! And for those interested making a gift, visit moravian.edu/mos-cupboard.

Greyhounds taking care of the pack: That’s what Mo’s Cupboard is all about!

*The latest published report.

1200 Main Street
Bethlehem, PA 18018
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FAX: 610.625.7930

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