WORTHINGTON Food insecurity is the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. In college students, it harms their ability to achieve their educational and career goals.

As an AmeriCorps VISTA at Minnesota West, I am doing research and working with individuals in our communities and campuses to expand what resources and services we can either provide or refer out to our students.

We all know the cliché of the broke college student eating ramen, but we as a culture need to start thinking past this for our students. Students deserve a well-balanced, healthy meal to not only sustain themselves in their studies, but also to build healthy habits through their lifetimes. In the past year at Minnesota West, one in three students reported being food insecure and one in every nine students reported being homeless due to the pandemic. These numbers are real students who attend Minnesota West and are trying to pursue an education in technical degrees, community-focused programs and certificate programs that are integral to the growth of our communities. Nationwide, two-year college student food insecurity sits at almost every one in two students (48%).

Minnesota West has been working on student food insecurity in the past year by building relationships with community members. It has been providing funding for our pop-up pantries, as well as working to increase student awareness of community and campus resources that are available to them. Our pop-up pantries provide students with a variety of food, household items and personal care items that students can take anonymously and when they have a need. We recently surveyed students about our pop-up pantries and found that over 20% of all of the student respondents of the survey had accessed our pantries across all five campuses and our Luverne learning center. We know that our students are not only going to our campuses and learning centers, but they are all across southwest Minnesota (if not all over Minnesota). We are hoping to increase our services to all of our students, regardless of geography.

Policies for accessing SNAP/EBT benefits for college students are especially confusing for all involved. On top of being below or at the income level, students may have to show that they are working 20-plus hours a week, have federal or state work study, have dependents or have many other caveats to access benefits. Due to the expanded SNAP benefits from the stimulus bills, students have more eligibility to receive SNAP, although this is a temporary as of now. It is so crucial for students across the United States to have these expanded guidelines so that students are able to keep their increased access to healthy food options.

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We are always accepting donations to our pantries across the Minnesota West system. If you are interested in donating, please contact your local Minnesota West campus or learning center.

Jade Moorse facilitates healthy lifestyles for diverse student food insecurities at Southwest Minnesota State University and Minnesota West.