Many students who chose to stay on or around campus during winter break will soon face a new, more insidious issue: food insecurity.
In a 2019 survey, it is estimated 34-59% of college students in Kansas experience food insecurity, a figure that adds to the already numerous year-end stressors. While nearly 10% of Kansans suffer from food insecuritydisproportionate rates continue to rise among the college student population.
With the Wichita State campus located in and around some food deserts — Low-income areas with limited access to healthy, affordable food — The Shocker Support Cupboard helps hundreds of students struggling with food-related difficulties. The warehouse offers up to 20 weekly credits worth food, clothing, toiletries and products for children and familieswithout payment for students, faculty and staff in need.
For international exchange students like Sai Sri Raj Nallam, a frequent visitor to The Shocker Support Locker, finding the means to afford and find more expensive and less accessible food is an added challenge on top of the culture shock and stresses academic.
“I was a little disappointed because there are no grocery stores … available on campus as well as near campus,” Nallam said.
Finding the time, money and transportation needed to even visit the grocery store can be a challenge for Nallam, who negates some of these difficulties by visiting the grocery store once a month with his roommate.
“We have to manage everything at the same time. If I had a class, I have to miss the class,” Nallam said.
Often, limited access proves too much, and Nallam has to settle for low-calorie alternatives.
“If I come to such a situation… If there is bread available, I will eat the bread and if there is milk available, I will drink the milk,” Nallam said. “That’s how I make it.”
The Shocker Support Cupboard has seen a higher volume of students requesting free meals during the fall 2022 academic year than ever before.
Cailtin Nolen, student advocacy coordinator for the closet, and her four student employees have found themselves struggling to keep the shelves stocked. While Nolen acknowledges that food is an issue that can’t be solved by a food bank alone, she said the pantry is a positive step in the right direction.
“With the Shocker Support Cupboard, we’re not going to cure food insecurity, but we can make sure we put a dent in it to help people on campus,” Nolen said.
The pantry relies primarily on donations from local food banks and community partners, such as the Kansas Food Bank, Chartwells Dining and United Way of the Plains. However, many of the donation deliveries are made on Mondays, so products taken from the closet earlier in the week are long gone by Wednesday, leaving students who can’t make them early with nothing.
“On days when we refill, there will be about 60 people waiting outside in the hall. But on days that are a little bit slower, we might see about 30 people a day,” said Emma Glover, a student worker for the closet.
Rising prices have also put a strain on the locker. Nolen noticed that, after a year, she went from ordering 24 cans of peaches for $8 to ordering 12 cans for $30. These price increases make it more difficult to financially support the closet throughout the academic year.
“We only get so much money…. a year to allocate, and if we continue to spend all that money, we won’t have the money to provide for students the second semester,” Nolen said. “It’s very difficult to meet a lot of student needs.”
Nolen and her staff fear that ongoing food insecurity can not only negatively affect a student’s physical health, but also their mental and emotional health. As sourced in National Library of Medicinefood insecurity among college students directly contributes to increased likelihood of anxiety, depression, loneliness, and self-injurious behavior.
“If you’re worried about not having food to eat, you’re not going to worry about your classes, or you’re not going to feel like having fun, so it can really dampen your mood and your anxiety,” Glover said.
Many regular users of Shocker Support Locker, like Nallam, share the same opinion.
“If we have good food and we have a good stomach, we can concentrate more in class,” Nallam said.
To combat food insecurity, whether on or off campus, Nolen and her staff encourage community members and Wichita State students, faculty, and staff to give to those in need when they can and publicly promote and uplift the organizations that work to eradicate food insecurity.
Whether it’s reposting a flyer for an upcoming food drive or taking time out of your day to volunteer at a local food bank, every donation or service is one step closer to ensuring that every belly in Wichita has access to essential and nutritious food.
Individuals interested in giving back to the community can volunteer or donate money and/or food items to local food banks and organizations committed to ending food insecurity, such as Our Daily Bread Food Pantry, Kansas Food Bank, The food storehouse of his helping handsor the food banks and pantries listed in FoodPantries.org.