College initiative addresses student hunger and homelessness

By Erica Quinones

News Editor

  Beginning in fall 2018, staff and students came together to form the Hunger and Homelessness initiative. The group had formed in years prior but died out. However, starting in fall 2019, the revived initiative established its first project.

  Before starting any programs, the initiative sent out student surveys to establish a baseline for hunger and homelessness on campus.

     Only about 70 students responded to the survey, according to Assistant Dean for Curricular Enrichment Tya Pope, so the results were not conclusive.

     But what they did discover is that many students who reported experiencing homelessness did not recognize it as homelessness.

   Homelessness is defined as “lacking a permanent dwelling, such as a house or apartment. [They are] often unable to acquire and maintain regular, safe, secure, and adequate housing,” according to the Hunger and Homelessness initiative group.

    In a college setting, homelessness applies to students without a regular place to stay during breaks, according to Pope. This includes if a student couch surfs when off-campus.

    While some student participants reported qualifying in this category, they also did not say they were homeless.

      “Nobody wants to admit they are experiencing hunger or homelessness,” Pope said. “I would not be ashamed to tell someone that I need help finding x, y, z resources. But we make it really hard for people to do the same thing around food and a safe place to live.”

     Homeless students require help from the College community. One of the major obstacles with mitigating homelessness on campus is winter break.

     During winter break, there are no students allowed on campus because staff members have vacation for two weeks.

    According to Pope, because international students typically cannot return home for winter break, some Chestertown residents house them for the month. Because of the security and safety issues presented by the empty campus, the group is considering a similar situation for homeless students.

    A similar approach is partially looked at by  Co-President of the Food Recovery Network senior Emily Dobson when dealing with the second side of the initiative, hunger.

     Dobson works with local churches and donors around Kent County to help deliver food and other items to those who need it.

  “You cannot have an initiative without a community to help back it up,” Dobson said.

     According to, half the respondents to an earlier survey said that they had skipped a meal because they could not afford it.

    Pope first started thinking about hunger on college campuses when she read an article about it.

     Around the same time the article got her thinking, there was a mass email from Central Services announcing they could not receive fresh food deliveries anymore. This then raised the question, who was purchasing online groceries and why?

   Her first thoughts were international students, then students with allergies. But what stood out to her was the fact that there are students who wanted to purchase their own food outside of Acme and Redner’s.

  This was a sign of student hunger, which is defined as not getting sufficient food in both nutrition and amount.

     Sometimes, according to Pope, hunger comes from students buying small meal plans with too few Dining Dollars to supplement it.

    These students must buy their remaining meals at local grocery stores. However, when smaller meal plans are bought due to an already tight budget, the foods they buy are typically inadequate nutritionally.

     Other times, student hunger stems from dietary restrictions or students being unable to find food they like, according to Pope.

      This helped inspire the Hunger and Homelessness initiative’s first program, George’s Free General Store, a food pantry that runs on donations from WC community members.

     Set up in the Goose Nest’s kitchen, it operates on the motto, “take what you need and give when you can.”

     Pope said that she sees a rotation of goods in the store. They have since installed a dry erase board so people can write down what they want available.

     What Pope is most grateful for, however, is how respectful people have been of the space. She said there were concerns about vandalism, but people have taken care of the area.

     They do want to see more dietary diversity in the store. However, they know that alternative diet options are expensive. She also recognizes that local grocery stores are American-centric, so staples of other cultural foods are mostly unavailable.

    Additionally, the group wants to buy cookbooks and host cooking classes in the spring. They want to show students how to make nutritious meals with limited foods and budgets.

     They also started a partnership with the “Shared Meals” app.

   On the app, catering and clubs can advertise where and when there will be leftover food from events. Students can also leave open invitations for others to eat with them, sharing a meal swipe.

     Due to the expense of WC, there is a myth that its students do not face fiscal challenges, according to Pope. But there are many students on financial aid, loans, grants, and scholarships.

    “If they are here, they are part of this community and we have a responsibility to make sure they are safe and make sure they are taken care of,” Pope said. “Making sure that places like the General Store are available and having those education components, we are planning on having in the spring, are going to help getting that conversation [about hunger and homelessness] going.”

    To assist with starting the conversation, the group will host events for Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, which is Nov. 16 to Nov. 24.

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