Food Insecurity: The Invisible Epidemic

By: Brooke Trochesset | News Editor |

Photo courtesy of JagPantry

College students are notorious for spending as little money as is physically needed to survive. While we pay for classes or watch our loans accrue interest, it’s common that we don’t particularly care to go on a shopping spree. There are often times that people have to go without, but, fortunately, some saving habits make for good stories. I once knew a friend who shared a streaming service with an ex-girlfriend’s stepmom’s sister in Virginia. Most of my friends bike or skate to class and have a good story about spilling coffee on their one nice outfit on their way to a presentation. Thrift shopping has become a go-to activity for my friends, and many of my favorite outfits have been thrifted for less than $10.

Unsurprisingly, students have to get pretty crafty with saving money. One senior says that she checks out movies and TV sets from the Marx Library instead of spending money on streaming service subscriptions. Many South students meal-prep, whether it’s with an instant pot or a rice cooker, or even if they’ve stolen some leftovers from their grandma’s house. One student reports using her meal plan to grocery shop at the Delta Deli for all of her basic needs including sanitary items, menstrual pads, and other toiletries. Numerous students cut their own hair or have a family member cut their hair to save money.

Some students are more daring in their money-saving endeavors. One sophomore jokes that she has taken fruit from the cafeteria on more than one occasion so that she can save money on her grocery store trips. Multiple students report filling water bottles at school to save just a little money, and a few mentioned “borrowing” toilet paper from public places. Several students stated that they regularly steal groceries from grocery chains for the sole purpose of saving on bills. 

Whether you’re a No-Starbucks money saver or a Grocery-Borrower money saver, you likely have this in common. Nearly every student interviewed reports that they skip at least one meal a day in order to save money. Several students report eating one meal a day, and a few report skipping food for an entire day or longer. According to Health Affairs, food insecurity among college students has been named an “invisible epidemic” leading to lower GPAs, lower attendance rates, higher stress levels, and a greater risk of depression. 

If you are struggling with food security, please know that you are not alone. According to Health Affairs, approximately one-third of college students in America struggle with food security. According to Drexel, some studies estimate that as many as fifty percent of college students face food insecurity, which is higher than the average for other age groups. Students often have a difficult time making money. On-campus jobs have flexible hours that work with school schedules and offer a way for students to get to and from work without vehicles, but on-campus jobs also have limited hours and relatively inflexible pay. Off-campus jobs may offer more hours or more competitive pay, but these jobs may interfere with school schedules or require transportation.

There are several resources available to help USA students who are facing food insecurity or other financial difficulties. We reached out to Ronie Langston, Assistant Manager of South CARES. Langston detailed many resources that are currently available on campus to University of South Alabama students. Under South CARES, there are three programs available to students looking for food security resources or other emergency assistance. These include the Emergency Fund, Emergency Loan, and JagPantry.

The Emergency Fund exists to assist students who have faced unforeseen, catastrophic events that have created a financial emergency. After completing a South CARES Assistance Request, students will be scheduled to meet with a staff member in order to discuss and carefully consider their unique situation. The USA Jaguar Support Emergency Loan Program provides interest-free, short-term loans that are designed to support USA students who need assistance paying for emergency expenses. 

The JagPantry is available as a means to provide short-term relief to USA students facing food insecurity. The JagPantry strives to ensure that students feel valued, respected, and supported during this hardship. The JagPantry is available for students to use when they need it, and SouthCARES asks that students be mindful of other Jaguars experiencing food insecurity. 

Finally, through the Dean of Students, Dr. Michael Mitchell, the Jags4Jags meal program provides students in need with meal vouchers that they can redeem at the Fresh Food Company. 

When talking with students, Langston may recommend reaching out to Counseling and Testing, the Center for Academic Excellence, or USA’s Housing Assistance Program depending on their specific needs. 

No matter the circumstances, students should know that others are likely experiencing similar difficulties. The University of South Alabama has many resources available to assist students, and there are people, like Langston, to guide you through the process. Please visit South CARES for more information about the programs mentioned above.