One in six students at Eastern Kentucky University experience food insecurity during their first semester and 21 percent of students may need food assistance during their college career, according to statistics on the EKU Colonel Cupboard’s website.
Food insecurity is a common issue among college students and Eastern Kentucky University is no exception. Erica Kessinger, the day-to-day operator of Colonel’s Cupboard, said they see around 8 to 10 students every day.
“Since last year our numbers have significantly increased,” Kessinger said.
She said that this increase can be seen as both a positive and a negative as it means that more students are struggling, but also means that more students are learning about the resources that are available to them. Kessinger said that the causes of more students experiencing food insecurity could be due to changes in meal plans and university policies or personal life problems.
The Colonel’s Cupboard, located in Commonwealth Hall, provides students with the basic food, clothing and toiletry items they might need to make it through the week. Kessinger said that cereal, Pop-Tarts, peanut butter, rice and other quick dorm foods are the most popular.
Hannah Wiggins, an American Sign Language major, said that adding a refrigerated section might be nice but thought that the cost may be too much for the Cupboard.
Another issue around food insecurity is the lack of awareness of it. Sarah Hill, an animal studies major at EKU, said that she thought food insecurity meant being more aware of where your food comes from. Kessinger said that a big contributor to this misconception is that people tend to think more about families than college students when they think about food insecurity and poverty. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as being a lack of consistent access to food for an active, healthy life, regardless of age.
Although food insecurity is fairly common on college campuses, part of the lack of understanding of the topic may come from the stigma that surrounds it. Wiggins said that she believed that there is a stigma and felt that one possible way of changing how people think about food insecurity would be to educate people more about the problem and to let people know that it is okay to ask for help. She saw this as a particular issue for freshmen who are new to campus and may not know as much about their resources here.
Wiggins said that food insecurity is not just a problem at school. She said that, growing up, she and her family visited “food banks like doctors’ appointments.” Wiggins said that despite the negativity surrounding food insecurity, her experiences with it have made her become resourceful, which she believes is a positive attribute.
College students, in particular, may be more susceptible to suffering from food insecurity because they must also grapple with the high costs of pursuing their education. Kessinger said that other factors of becoming food insecure include the cycle of poverty, which can be difficult to break. Kessinger and Wiggins both agree that more should be done by the Cupboard to increase awareness on campus so that individuals that may be struggling can find the help they need.
Part of educating more students about food insecurity and the resources available to assist with it is to also let them know how it works. The Cupboard has undergone recent changes. For example, Wiggins said that when she first began using the Cupboard a few years ago she would be given “money” to “purchase” what she needed. Now students can drop in during the cupboard’s business hours and pick up what they need. Kessinger said they only ask that students be courteous of others in regard to how much they take.
The Colonel’s Cupboard is located in room 212 in Commonwealth Hall. Kessinger can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. They accept walk-ins from 1 to 4:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. Alternatively, walk-ins are welcome on Tuesday 8 to 11 a.m. or on Friday 1 to 4 p.m.