By Jeremy Clopton
Skagit Valley College challenged Whatcom Community College to a charity “food fight” that began Nov. 1 of last year and ended Jan. 18, with Whatcom collecting the most weight in non-perishable foods for its own Orca Food Pantry.
Whatcom brought in a total of 1,123 pounds, 15 ounces in donated food, a little over twice Skagit’s total of 509 pounds, 12 ounces. The totals and winner were announced Jan. 19 at the men’s basketball games hosted by Skagit.
This was a turnaround from last year, when Whatcom challenged Skagit as a way to bring awareness to the Orca Food Pantry concept. Skagit pulled through and beat Whatcom.
This year, the strategy to beat Skagit was to publicize the charity as much as possible by putting up sandwich boards, food pantry posters, and flyers about the food fight. All non-perishable foods such as canned and dry foods were accepted for the challenge.
Friends and family of students were also encouraged to donate foods at the men’s and women’s home basketball games.
The food fight aims to bring awareness to the problem of student hunger, as many college level students make the choice of education over food or housing security.
An article written in February 2016 by The Chronicle of Higher Education highlights the key issue of students making choices in pursuit of a diploma, credential, or certificate. Forced to choose between textbooks or food, groceries or graduation, they experience poverty, hunger, and homelessness.
Schools and higher education officials, as well as politicians are taking note of the student plight of hunger.
A report from the Government Accountability Office, which provides fact-based information to Congress, shows there are millions of students at risk of food insecurity, which means students do not have access to healthy, affordable food.
The GAO has conducted 31 studies in the U.S. since 2007, 22 of which estimate more than 30 percent of students suffer from food insecurity.
“For me, I saw it when I was teaching math at the college for many years,” said VP for Instruction Ed Harri, “The statistics on student food and housing insecurity are sobering, and I learned about the time WCC student leaders and the colleges Foundation developed the idea for the food pantry,” said Harri in an email. “It’s a really important idea, both in the food it can provide and the education and understanding it can offer.”
The GAO report was in response to a letter written by Sens. Patty Murray, Debbie Stabenow, Edward Markey, and Elizabeth Warren. The Senators also held a hearing to highlight the report.
In response to the problem, schools and colleges have implemented services for helping students. Concepts like food pantries have been widely utilized at institutions across the U.S.
Qualifying, low-income students are being educated on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the report indicates almost “2 million at-risk students” did not receive SNAP food benefits even though they might have qualified.
An article written by The Atlantic in January said the GAO has urged the Food and Nutrition Services, which administers SNAP, to improve information about student eligibility and share that information with its local offices.
The issue has certainly grabbed the attention of staff and instructors here at Whatcom. “I’m very aware of the food scarcity my students experience,” said English instructor for Whatcom, Katherine Burns. “Whenever I’m at the store I pick up an extra can of beans or something. It’s an easy thing to do, and I know it has an impact.”
“The hunger issue is part of a complex web of social issues including the high cost of housing and non-living wage jobs which are contributing to the problem of food insecurity,” said Catherine Chambers.
The GAO is not the only organization who has been reporting on statistics and facts surrounding concerns on the issue of food insecurity.
“But what really grabbed my attention a few years ago,” said Harri, “was to study the research out of the Hope Center.”
The Hope center conducts various studies and surveys and wants to bring attention to “non-academic” issues college students deal with that are often forgotten or overlooked, such as housing and food, according to the website hope4college.com.