By Angela Roberts
On Monday, Nov. 27, multicultural sorority Kappa Lambda Xi welcomed the directors of the Capital Area Food Bank and D.C. Hunger Solutions to share with students the daily challenges faced by individuals experiencing food insecurity.
This discussion, although reflective of a widespread issue, was chillingly relevant to UMD. According to a study published by the university’s public health school earlier this semester, 15 percent of students on campus struggle with food insecurity and another 16 percent are at risk of being food insecure.
Beverley Wheeler, the director of D.C. Hunger Solutions, chalks up the results of the report to the high cost of living in the surrounding area compounded with the myriad of other expenses college students are responsible for.
According to the 2017 UMD Student Housing Market Analysis Report, the average monthly rent for apartments within a half mile of campus stands at $908 – that’s over $8,000 a year.
Capital Area Food Bank director of distributions Lavette Sims says the issue is aggravated by the rising cost of tuition – a trend that impacts college campuses across the country.
Last year, the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness released a report that revealed approximately 25 percent of community college students and 20 percent of students at four-year schools experience very low food security.
Wheeler and Sims were invited to campus to raise awareness about the extent of this issue and its devastating effects, according to senior psychology major Swaths Siva Srinivasan, a Kappa Lambda Xi sister.
“Most people don’t talk about it because no one wants to come forward and say that they’re going through a struggle like food insecurity,” she said. “It’s important to bring it up, so people can feel safe to talk about it.”
The panel explored efforts to combat the stigma associated with food insecurity and food pantries. Sims discussed a move by the Capital Area Food Bank to brand the 444 centers it stocks as “nutrition centers,” rather than food pantries to better welcome families to take advantage of the resources they provide.
Wheeler beseeched the attending students to find a food distribution center in the surrounding area if they are experiencing food insecurity and are hesitant to visit the campus pantry.
“People think, ‘oh, you’re a college student, you’re supposed to be hungry,’” she said. “Uh, no.”
Monday’s panel was the newest addition to “Discussion and Desserts,” an ongoing Kappa Lambda Xi-sponsored series that strives to foster discourse on significant social issues that receive little debate, despite having a large impact on students’ lives. According to junior international relations major Kayla Jackson, it was the holiday season that inspired the sorority to choose food insecurity as their featured topic this semester.
“It being so close to the holidays, we’re seeing a lot of these problems rising now,” she said. “Especially since these holidays surround food, we’re going to see a lot of families in need of donations.”
The panel opened with a brief presentation from each visiting director. Wheeler became visibly distressed as she described the status quo of hunger in D.C., punctuating each statistic with a denunciation of its absurdity.
“I don’t believe there should be hunger in the most powerful nation in the known universe,” she stated.
Wheeler also presented the racial inequity of the issue. She showed a graphic that revealed majority African American wards in D.C. to contain the fewest grocery stores and have the highest percentage of diabetic residents.
The racial trend is mirrored in the populations most likely to experience food insecurity on college campuses. According to the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness report referenced earlier, 57 percent of black students surveyed reported food insecurity, compared to 40 percent of non-Hispanic white students.
Both Wheeler and Sims emphasized the significance of education in their organizations’ efforts to combat food insecurity and ultimately end hunger. They praised the ongoing discussion and underscored the importance of its continuation even after the evening’s panel drew to a close.
Wheeler said if there is a lack of knowledge about the resources available, it is as if they do not exist.