KOKOMO, Ind. — Trisha Skarda hates to think any of her classmates might be hungry.
But the stories she hears from other Indiana University Kokomo students convinces her that some of them don’t have enough to eat.
One friend told her about eating a half can of soup for lunch, saving the other half to make sure she had something for lunch the next day. Another talked about picking up a bag of groceries at a Kokomo food pantry so her family would have enough to get through the month. She’s heard about difficult choices being made, such as skipping classes to work more to earn additional money.
“It’s hard to take the time to study when you feel you could be working, or you’re worried about having money for food,” said Skarda, a senior from Walton.
She learned that campus leadership started a no-questions-asked food pantry earlier in the year and wanted to get involved.
Skarda convinced fellow Enactus student organization members Tyler Willhite, Matt Spencer, and Murtada Al Nasser that they should use their School of Business skills to educate the campus about the resources available to them. In addition, they help raise food donations for the pantry and encourage those who need it to ask for help.
“Money can be an issue when you’re a college student,” she said. “A lot of them come from middle class families, and don’t see themselves as the kind of people who go to a food pantry. We want to remove that stigma and let them know that everyone needs a hand up from time to time. We’ve all been there.”
Al Nasser, a Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) student from Saudi Arabia, added that for some students, the food pantry could make it possible to stay in school.
“Some might be tempted to drop out and get a job, but this could make the difference for them to stay and graduate,” he said.
Food insecurity, which exists when people lack sustainable access to sufficient safe, nutritious food for a healthy lifestyle, is a problem nationwide, including on college campuses. IU Kokomo recognizes the impact of food insecurity on its students, offering resources to help. In addition to the Cougar Cupboard, the professional staff council offers a student in crisis fund, which provides small grants for emergencies.
Enactus members are developing a marketing plan and a student survey to get accurate statistics on the prevalence of food insecurity on campus. A recent food drive during homecoming week brought in nearly 600 food items.
While there are no statistics specifically about food insecurity among IU Kokomo students, Chelsi Day, director of Counseling and Psychological Services, and a leader of the campus food pantry task force, noted that more than 60 percent receive need-based financial aid. Also, a recent student health survey reveals that 46 percent of male and 45 percent of female students experienced financial difficulty in the last year.
“Between those numbers and the conversations I have had with students in my office, food insecurity is absolutely a concern for our students,” she said. “If someone is worried about where they will find their next meal, why would finishing a paper seem like a priority? If I haven’t eaten a substantial meal in days, I’m not going to be able to concentrate on or attend to my schoolwork.”
She noted that that students age 18 to 22 who are enrolled in college and live at home are no longer eligible for food stamps.
“We pride ourselves on providing affordable education, which makes it accessible to students from low-income families,” she said. “I think it’s important that we understand the unique pressures they face, and do our best to help. Having food available to those who need it shows we are actually invested in our students, and we are committed to helping them succeed in school by helping assure their basic needs are met.”
Jason VanAlstine, Enactus co-sponsor, sees the impact in his classroom, where students sometimes will miss classes because they had the opportunity to work additional hours.
“If they’re in a position to say no to extra shifts and go to class because we can help with some food, we’re helping them succeed academically,” he said. “Hopefully, that will keep them on track to earning a degree that provides a more stable future.”
Enactus members also help out at the Cougar Cupboard, packing bags to distribute that contain a few days’ worth of meals. Their goal is to expand the pantry, adding hygiene items and cleaning supplies, and to have space for people to choose their own items.
“At some point in life, everyone needs a hand,” said Spencer, from Amboy. “We want to be part of the solution.”
The Cougar Cupboard is located in the testing center area, Kelley Student Center Room 250, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, with no paperwork and no identification required.
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.