College and university campuses across the state are experiencing higher rates of food insecurity than in years past.
The University of Nevada, Reno reports the university’s food pantry expects the need for food assistance to double this academic year.
KaPreace Young is the coordinator for student outreach at the University’s Center for Student Engagement. She’s been working with the university’s food pantry, which is called Pack Provisions.
“The pandemic has shown that food insecurity doesn’t have a face, it doesn’t have a name," she told KNPR's State of Nevada, "It impacts all of our students on different levels. And it may not be for a long period of time, but they may need some of our resources for a short period of time.”
Young said last year Pack Provisions logged 2,500 uses total, and it is already surpassing that. Besides an uptick in need, Young said the pantry updated its services to better serve students and staff.
“Prior to COVID-19, students could come in and choose what they’re ordering or what they’re picking up, and now we’ve changed to an online ordering system," she said, "We’ve implemented a delivery option, and then we’re also giving out grocery funds as well for students on a bi-weekly basis.”
The delivery and pickup options help students living in the Reno-Sparks area, and the grocery fund helps the students living in Las Vegas or in nearby states.
Young said food insecurity is having a disproportional impact on students of color and students who are first-generation college students. They are also seeing more upperclassman in need of food from the pantry.
“We see this affecting our students on different levels and we’re trying to do as best we can to outreach and advertise to different departments that serve these student populations in order to help them combat these issues,” she said.
Pack Provisions is doing more than providing food, Young said.
“It’s not just food insecurity, but it’s our overall academic success of our students as well,” she said.
Students who are not sure where their next meal is coming from are not going to do as well in the classroom.
Racquel Melson agrees. She is the campus life coordinator for the College of Southern Nevada Charleston Campus.
Melson said that if non-academic barriers like food insecurity can be addressed then student achievement goes up.
“If we can find ways to remove these barriers, so students can put their energy into their classroom, and they’re not worrying about food, or they’re not worried about transportation or clothes," she said, "At CSN, we try to find all the resources we can and put them before students so that they can focus on meeting those educational goals”
Last year, CSN created Coyote Cupboard, which is a food and basic hygiene pantry for students. They could drop in and grab what they needed and go.
Melson said last year the items that students took most often were single-serving, grab-and-go food like cup of noodles, microwavable macaroni and cheese, and soups.
"Students that are limited in their resources, but they take classes all day, just needed to get them through the day,” she said.
Coyote Cupboard closed when the governor issued the stay-at-home order in March, but over the summer, the student life team asked college administrators about reopening to help students in need.
They did and moved to an appointment and pickup model at all three campus locations.
Melson said they've also seen a change in what students are getting when they pick up food. While they use to grab single servings, they are now looking for food for an entire family.
“It has really led us to change the type of food that we are offering students in our bags and boxes,” she said.
Instead of cup of noodles and snacks, the pantry is giving out rice, pasta and pasta sauce. In November, Melson said there were 17 uses of the pantry at the Charleston Boulevard campus, but those 17 stops actually fed 62 people in the community.
The students are asked to fill out a survey letting the campus and its partner, Three Square Food Bank, how many people the food is serving and their ages.
KaPreace Young, Coordinator, UNR Student Engagement Outreach; Racquel Melson, Campus Life Coordinator, CSN Charleston Campus