Campus food banks expand to feed hungry students



LANSING – Food banks are a growing sight on Michigan campuses as many students struggle with higher tuition, costly rent – and sometimes, hunger.

“I think institutions are beginning to realize that there has been a food insecure population on campuses all along, and we need to serve it,” said Nathaniel Smith-Tyge, director of the Michigan State University Food Bank.

Prior to the Great Recession, Michigan institutions had only four on-campus food pantries, according to the MSU Food Bank. Today, Thirteen institutes have programs supported by the College and University Food Bank Alliance.

Eastern Michigan is the latest school to follow this trend, opening a campus food pantry this fall. Others include the University of Michigan and Saginaw Valley State, Western Michigan, Finlandia, Grand Valley State and Michigan State universities. Among the others are Kirktand and Bay de Noc community colleges, and Lake Michigan College.

Most campus-based food banks in the state rely on donations from students, alumni and the surrounding community.

Karen Lamons, the Western Michigan University residential life supervisor who worked to open the university’s food pantry last fall, said the support the program has received over the last year has been staggering.

“It’s beyond our expectation – not just that people are coming, but that people want to support it,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s our administration, our faculty, our staff, our student organizations, they all want to support it.”

She said that a lot of donations come from food drives held by local businesses and organizations, as well as students themselves, who work as volunteers and drop off donations at the campus’ 30 collection sites.

During its first year, there were more than 400 visits to the pantry. Lamons said that the program doesn’t require individuals to prove their need – to visit the pantry, they just have to be enrolled WMU students.

Nationally, one in 10 adults in need of emergency food assistance is a student, according to Feeding America, a Chicago-based national network of food banks. It is hard to calculate how those numbers stack up for Michigan – the Department of Health and Human Services does not compile student-specific data.

Smith-Tyge said Michigan State’s program helps around 4,000 students and their families each year.

“At an institution like MSU with an enrollment of 50,000, when we’re talking about even a small percentage, we’re still talking about a good number of people,” he said. “It goes beyond that general perception of students, having to buy ramen and those kinds of things – these really are people who do not know where their next meal’s going to come from.”


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