An on-campus food bank could benefit malnourished UNCA students

By Stephen Case – Staff Writer – scase@unca.edu

As tuition and costs increase to attend secondary education opportunities, financial burdens for students and their families become more and more stressful. The last thing a student should worry about is where their next meal will come from.

Campuses across the nation have started food pantries as an effort to combat hunger on college campuses. Why can’t UNC Asheville join the trend?

Taco Bell and ramen noodles are no way for anyone to have to survive, let alone the potential future leaders of this country.

“The university is going to want to know if they have to pay for it,” said Emma Hutchens, food and community coordinator for the student environmental center at UNCA. “What are the barriers for students that are keeping them from utilizing the options that are already available to them?”

Schools such as Tennessee State University, Austin Peay State University, the University of Arkansas, the University of Georgia and Utah Valley University established on-campus food pantries in the last three years, according to a USA Today report.

These pantries offer everything free of charge, from bread and milk, to produce and toiletries.

Students receive a list of options to choose from and are allotted a certain amount each visit. This prevents students from taking more than is necessary.

UNCA could partner with MANNA FoodBank on this project. All of the food received by the school is purely donated food. MANNA is the food bank for 16 local counties of Western North Carolina.

“What we’ve learned is people that live close to hunger are extremely careful about no waste and only taking what they need because they know what it’s like and they don’t do the hoarding thing at all,” said Alisa Hixson, individual and corporate relations director at MANNA FoodBank.

As a student who grew up close to poverty, I can attest to food playing a major role in my life. Whether it’s an on-campus resident with a meal card or a non-resident student living on their own or at home with their parents, getting the nutrition the body needs to be successful for a reasonable price is the goal.

Hixson said MANNA offers over 3 million pounds of fresh produce at their food bank.

“We do not turn away food, but have absolutely upped the amount of produce that we have, and our goal is to continue to increase that,” Hixson said. “Twenty percent of our food is produce and we want that to continue to go up.”

UNCA offers a meal card plan for residential students and this fee is already set in the tuition, but where does that leave the non-residential students who don’t have this option?

Nancy Yeager, associate vice chancellor for student affairs, said meal plans are calculated by the food service vendors as the price of doing business with the university.

“Meal plan costs also fund the utilities and maintenance of the dining hall and retail locations as well as insurance, equipment maintenance and replacements and small wares,” Yeager said.

I work a part-time job while maintaining full-time student status as a non-resident. After paying my monthly bills, not a whole lot is left over for food, at least not healthy options. I don’t think I am alone in this. A food pantry would help alleviate at least one unnecessary stress.

A food pantry would also entice future students to our school. No other UNC-system schools have a permanent food pantry on their campus.

Hutchens said the university should better educate students on programs already in place, such as public transportation options and food stamps, before starting up a new program,  even if the school had room for it.

Better educating our student body about programs in place is a great idea, but every student’s circumstances are different. In this economic state, there are too many benefits of an on-campus food pantry to simply dismiss the possibility of one making its way to UNCA.

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