Tuesday, October 16, 2012

NC Campuses Against Hunger: A Call to Action to End Hunger Within Our Lifetime

Photo: Roger Winstead/NC State University
As a VISTA at Durham Technical Community College, I encounter students in crisis almost every day. While students are pursuing training or education to help them attain employment or transfer to a four-year institution, they are often performing a difficult balancing act between work and family commitments. Many live in chronic poverty and experience homelessness and food insecurity. Although we are developing programs to address these needs among our campus community, I often have to turn students seeking help away or refer them to outside agencies because our school struggles with inadequate resources. These complex problems require multifaceted solutions. Such was the topic of conversation on October 10-11, when representatives from campuses across North Carolina gathered to dialogue about what can be done to end hunger within our lifetime, examining systemic issues that must be addressed and discussing initiatives on campuses that fight food insecurity.
Systemic Issues That Must Be Addressed

Phil Gordon of Single Stop USA put it best when he said, "our students shouldn't have to choose between groceries and graduation." On Day 1 of the conference, representatives from NC colleges joined together to learn about the Single Stop model. This program, which connects clients with screening for social services, legal assistance, and financial counselors, has been implemented at community centers, including some community colleges, in seven states across the country. Although Single Stop does not currently serve North Carolina, attendees shared their experiences with the Benefit Bank of NC, which operates with a similar model on some NC community college campuses. Many are finding that our students, who juggle full schedules and often have difficulty navigating the complex bureaucracies of social welfare agencies and programs, can achieve greater success when resources are available at easy-to-access locations. In addition to services such as Benefit Bank, NC State University and Durham Technical Community College reported developing food pantries for students, faculty, and staff who are experiencing food insecurity and have difficulty accessing SNAP benefits or other community food resources due to eligibility requirements.
Attendees packaged 10,000 meals. Photo: Roger Winstead/NC State University

For the evening keynote on Day 1, David Lambert, an expert on global food security, reminded us that hunger is not only an issue affecting the success of our students and the health of our community – it is also a threat to the well-being of our nation. A study by the Sodexo Foundation found that hunger costs the United States an estimated $167 billion each year due to hunger-related illness, decreased worker productivity, and lower educational attainment. There is a direct correlation between food security and national security, as evidenced by the global food riots of 2008, yet our political will struggles to catch up with our core values. Quoting from the Book of Isaiah, Lambert called us to serve by saying “if you offer food to the hungry, your light will rise in the darkness.” The evening drew to a close with a meal packaging event with one of the event sponsors, Stop Hunger Now.

Initiating a Campus-Wide Effort

Photo: Roger Winstead/NC State University
Day 2 allowed attendees the opportunity to take a closer look at hunger-fighting programs on other campuses. Morning poster sessions showcased programs from schools like NC School of Science and Math, which holds an annual record-breaking food drive, and Meredith College, which expanded the Daisy Trade ReUse Store to include staple food items for students in need. The morning keynote by Dr. June Henton of Auburn University emphasized tackling global issues such as hunger as a valuable educational tool for students. Fighting hunger not only addresses a pressing human need, it prepares the next generation to be socially conscious leaders. Although not all the campuses present have the resources to form such incredible programming in the fight against hunger, the Auburn campus showcase emphasized that the community partnerships and educational opportunities created through college programs addressing hunger are often naturally aligned with an institution’s strategic educational goals. The following work sessions allowed campuses to share their existing programs and new ideas and collaborations.

Ray Buchanan, founder and international president of Stop Hunger Now, brought the conference to a close with a call to action. Moved by the vision of an end to hunger within our lifetime, he reminded all present that hunger is “an obscenity, a moral outrage.” Regardless of the current political or economic situation in our region or our schools, we all work in positions of privilege that come with the responsibility to do more to improve the lives of others. As we declared our commitments at our schools, we made the next steps in a continuing dialogue about hunger in our campuses, our state, our nation, and our world.

View more photos of the event