We get this question a lot: “why not direct students to resources off campus rather than doing it yourselves?”
This is a valid question, and one that I think demands consideration. One quick answer is this: campuses DO refer students to community agencies. It would be inefficient not to. That said, here are some reasons (some good and some problematic) that campuses might choose to have their own food bank rather than utilize off-campus resources only.
1) The campus may exist in a food desert. The reason that we were able to justify the Oregon State Food Pantry was that some graduate students were engaged in a analysis of the gaps in food safety net in our community. They found a big one around campus, which led to an investigation into whether or not it existed because there was no need, or if there was unmet need. We determined there was unmet need. This made campus an ideal location to fill that gap.
2) Some campuses want to provide additional services just for students. There are many campuses that have food banks for students only (and many that are open to the public). This allows the campus to direct resources to students, and to be more responsive to the specific needs on their campus.
3) Many students will not access off-campus resources. This can be a problematic reason, because in my opinion, many students will not use community resources is because of stereotypes and stigma they carry about people in the community who are in need. Because of this many students will not utilize resources because they do not feel safe doing so (even though they certainly would be).
4) Students are busy, busy people. Students experiencing food insecurity are often the busiest because they are taking classes AND working 20+ hours per week. A food bank on campus is really helpful in terms of access and time management.
5) International students may not use an off-campus pantry because of fear it might impact their visas. This is not true – receiving food assistance does not make a international student what the federal government calls a “public charge.” That said, many international students will seek assistance in safer places, and on-campus can feel much safer.
6) Having a food bank on campus can de-stigmatize poverty and normalize getting help. When it is public knowledge that a campus provides assistance to students in need, it can feel easier to take that assistance. It also can help to humanize people experiencing food insecurity other students.
7) Serving students can be a rallying point for the campus community. Whether it is a faculty food drive, Greek letter organization philanthropy, or an Empty Bowls event, communities are strengthened when members pitch in. This can have a positive impact on how students, faculty, and staff feel about their campus.
Originally published by Clare Cady January 13, 2015