How serious of a problem is food insecurity at UVM?

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Students at the University of Vermont want the community to know a new food pantry on campus is in the works.

The goal of this initiative is to make access to a pantry more convenient for students and to destigmatize its use.

We wanted to know whether a food pantry on the UVM campus would drain resources from other food shelves in Burlington, like the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf. The food shelf didn't get back to us, but the student government president told our Christina Guessferd that he thinks both are necessary.

"Yes, maybe the stereotype is that college students eat ramen for every meal," said Ethan Foley, the president of UVM's Student Government Association.

But Foley says that stereotype shouldn't be the reality. That's why he wants to put a food pantry on campus.

"Despite what many people may think, food insecurity is a problem for many college students and graduate students at the University of Vermont and more broadly," said Meredith Niles, an assistant professor in UVM's Department of Nutrition and Food Science.

Niles says a 2017 study on food insecurity at UVM proves that. According to the data, about 26 percent of undergraduate students-- and nearly 20 percent of the entire UVM community-- were food insecure that spring. That's compared to the 2016 national rate of 12 percent and Vermont's 10 percent. Niles says that may be in part due to greater opportunities for more demographics to pursue higher education.

"We're seeing more first-generation students, more students of color, for example, so we're seeing populations that, in our surveys at least, have been shown to be more likely to be food insecure and may not have the resources at home that other students would have that have traditionally gone to higher education," Niles said.

But the guidelines for using a campus resource like the food pantry are still ambiguous.

Reporter Christina Guessferd: How can we make sure people aren't abusing these resources? I know when I was in college, sometimes I didn't have enough money for food but I kind of worked through it.
Meredith Niles: At the moment, we're not saying you must make X amount of money or something like that. It's a much more fluid conversation about how students can access those, and in some cases, it's a no questions asked.

The data also shows students who live off campus are more likely to be food insecure, as they are tasked with budgeting in a way they may never have had to before, paying for rent and utilities on top of school supplies.

Foley says this food pantry would be for every undergraduate student who says they need the help whether it's a one-time solution or a long-term one.

"I've had to pay a little bit more for utilities this week, so maybe I'm going to head down to the food pantry and grab a couple things to help me get through this week," Foley said.

Foley said he hopes the community will donate to both food pantries but it sounds like that could be a tough request with already low resources.

The plan is for UVM's pantry to be up and running by the fall semester, so we'll know better then.