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Fighting Hidden Hunger

I first met Mercedes Jones at the Student Involvement Fair early this semester. A group of interested students had gathered around her table as she passionately talked about food insecurity among college students – an issue that she describes as “hidden.”

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Volunteer Coordinator, Brianna James, looking on as Mercedes gives an interview

“I’ve always had financial support from my parents so when I came here, I just assumed that everybody else was the same way, “Mercedes said in an interview with Fox 59. “I can honestly say that when I met people who lived in my dorm who did not always have food, I was shocked.”

 

Mercedes certainly isn’t alone in this misconception. I must admit, despite my involvement in various food security initiatives over the years, college students never stood out in my mind as a particularly vulnerable population. In fact, the common perception seems to be that, because college is so expensive, students must be inherently well-off simply because they can “afford” it. On the contrary, it is precisely because school is so expensive that students may be at risk greater risk for food insecurity. Sally Jones, the Crimson Cupboard’s faculty advisor and Director of the Student Advocate’s Office, agrees that there is a misconception about students. “I think people make assumptions about students,” Sally shared in an interview with Fox 59, “that their parents are always able or willing to provide for them, that they’re somehow dependent, but students really are adults and oftentimes are struggling with lots of different financial demands.”

As a college education has evolved into near necessity, the landscape of student enrollment has changed drastically. While it may have once been true that college was an endeavor of the wealthy, young adults from all socioeconomic backgrounds are entering college, many as first-generation students, and many lacking financial support. When faced with limited funds, food is often neglected in favor of more “important” expenses, such as school. Feeding America, the nation’s largest network of food banks, has reported that 49% of their college student clients have forgone food to pay for school expenses. As the issue gains more attention, colleges across the nation are examining the issue on their own campuses. In surveying their own students, Western Oregon University found that a staggering 59% of respondents reported missing meals; at Arizona State, it was 34%.

In researching the issue of hunger on our own campus, Mercedes found that students are reluctant to talk about their struggles with food security. Sally sees this often in her work with students experiencing financial emergencies in the Student Advocates Office. “I find that students will talk about needing money for textbooks or rent,” Sally shared, “but I think there is a vulnerability they are reluctant to express by talking about needing money for food.” This is something that the volunteers oft the Crimson Cupboard are working to change. Beyond offering a safe, supportive space for IUB students facing food insecurity, the Crimson Cupboard wants to bring light to the issue of hidden hunger on college campuses. Partnering with the South Central Community Action Program, the Crimson Cupboard recently applied for a grant that would support the dissemination of educational materials about food insecurity around campus, in hopes of making the issue easier to talk about, and easier for students to ask for help.

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Executive Director, Mercedes Jones, at the Grand Opening

It took Mercedes nearly 8 months to make the dream of a student food pantry a reality. On Tuesday December 1st, surrounded by friends, family, IU staff and faculty, the Crimson Cupboard celebrated its official Grand Opening. As word spread of this much needed resource, the support began to pour in, with food donations to the pantry, and monetary donations to our Go Fund Me campaign. Until the Crimson Cupboard can obtain nonprofit status, the pantry is relying solely on these donations to keep the shelves stocked.

This is one thing that sets the pantry apart from other emergency food resources in the area: the ability to shop for exactly what our patrons want. For the Crimson Cupboard, this means a lot of quick and easy snacks and meals, as students are often rushing from one obligation to the next. The pantry offers a wide range of options, attempting to provide something for every meal of the day. The breakfast shelf, pictured here on the left, boasts items such as cereal, oatmeal packets, Poptarts, peanut butter, and jelly.

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A view of 2/6 shelves stocked with food

The newly installed refrigerator allows for the pantry to offer items such as milk, eggs, and yogurt. Lunch and dinner items include macaroni, spaghetti, soup, rice, beans, tuna, bread, and canned vegetables. Personal care items, such as toothbrushes and deodorant, are also available to patrons.

These items and more are available to all IUB students with a student ID. New shoppers will be asked to fill out a simple form before being handed bags to fill as they choose. Items are allotted based on the size of the shopper’s household: a household of one would be able to shop for up to 13 items, while a larger household would receive more. Due to the large quantity offered to shoppers, they are asked shop come just once per week. The fall semester hours for the pantry are as follows:

Tuesdays (5:00-8:00PM)

  • December 8th
  • December 14th

Fridays (1:00pm – 4:00pm)

  • December 4th
  • December 11th

Sundays

  • December 13th (4:00PM-8:00PM)
  • December 20th (3:00PM-6:00PM)

For more information:
Crimson Cupboard Facebook page
Executive Director, Mercedes Jones: jonesmem@indiana.edu
Volunteer Coordinator, Brianna James: brijames@indiana.edu
Donation Coordinator, Erika Wheeler: greeneri@indiana.edu

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Crimson Cupboard officers at the Grand Opening.
From left to right: Sally Jones, Erika Wheeler, Brianna James, Mercedes Jones, Christiana Jerry

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Erika Wheeler is a Junior pursuing a degree in Community Health. As a native of Bloomington with no college aspirations, she grew up thinking of Indiana University as nothing but a big pain in her small hometown. She has since changed her mind.

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IUSPH Career Services

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