As we approach the season of Thanks-giving for God’s abundant grace and nourishment in our lives, it may be shocking to learn that across colleges and university campuses, many students are dealing with the reality of hunger as they pursue their higher education goals.
Housing instability, student hunger and access to healthy nutritious food is a problem that many college students are facing. What is striking is the increase in research documenting hunger among college students, and the growing number of students who must choose between food, books, and other living expenses (including housing and healthcare).
California colleges and universities are no stranger to this phenomenon. The University of California began addressing this need after a 2014 statewide survey of undergraduates at the nine UC campuses. The results are staggering. Nearly 26% of undergraduates reported that they skip meals to save money. In June 2015, President Janet Napolitano designated $75,000 per UC campus to address these concerns. Since then, UC campuses have developed responses and programs that provide resources for students dealing with food insecurity. Currently nine U.C campuses have food pantries and resources for hungry students.
In April 2015, Cal State Long Beach was awarded a $100,000 grant from the CSU Chancellor’s office to study food insecurity and housing instability among students enrolled at the 23 CSU campuses. There are eight food banks for students within the Cal. State system.
For many years, Cal-Pac Campus Ministries have assisted students living with limited resources to find a place to nourish their body, mind and soul. The increasing awareness and visibility of students with food insecurity and housing instability are being addressed by our Cal Pac Wesley Foundations in creative and valuable ways.
This year San Diego State University opened its Wesley House Residence, providing affordable and safe housing close to campus. Julie Walker, the interim WFSDSU campus minister, reports that food insecurity among students is an issue they will be assessing and working with the university to resolve. Grace UMC, near University of California, Riverside hosts a monthly potluck dinner that is shared with 30-100 students. Rev. Lisa Wright says that most students, if not all, also ask for food to take home. Rev Paige Eaves at University UMC, Irvine says the congregation supports students in the College Persistence Program with meals and financial assistance. Wesley Foundation Serving USC hosts meals and outreach to students at both Orchard House and University United Church. Wesley Foundation Serving UCLA hosts the 580 Café where students can have a free meal or snack daily. Recently WFSUCLA was invited to participate in the UCLA Food Security Task Force in addressing food insecurity at UCLA. WFSUCLA was awarded a $5000 grant to upgrade the infrastructure of the 580 Café, including a new refrigerator, food storage space, and cooking equipment.
As colleges and universities across California respond to food insecurity on campuses, campus ministries are important community partners in creating more just and compassionate care for students. Wesley Foundations and church-based collegiate ministries are vital ways we live into our UM four areas of Ministry Focus: Engaging in Ministry with the Poor, Improving Global Health, Developing Principled Christian Leaders, and Creating New and Renewed Congregations. Working alongside of our campus ministries, our churches can address food insecurity on campuses and in our communities within our Annual Conference and state. In these ways, we are “inspiring the world as passionate followers of Jesus Christ so that all may know God’s life giving love.”
We give thanks to those who support the work of campus ministry, and whose prayers and encouragement keep us rooted in the love of Christ for all. Let’s end hunger together.
By Jeanne Roe Smith, Wesley Foundation at UCLA