A Long-Standing Commitment to Student Success

In Spring 2018, Carol Glasser, Associate Professor in the Sociology department, taught a Sociology in Action course. She and her students researched food insecurity amongst Minnesota State University, Mankato students. A self-administered, anonymous, online survey was approved by the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs and sent to a random sample of 2,100 students that met the criteria of being undergraduate and full-time students who were enrolled in Spring 2018.

They found that more Minnesota State Mankato students experience food insecurity than the national average. Only 36 percent of students surveyed were food secure, while 40 percent of students experienced high or very high food insecurity. Another 24 percentage of students were experiencing marginal food insecurity issues. Therefore, almost two-thirds of the participating students were experiencing some level of food insecurity.

Students can be considered food insecure if in the last 30 days they experienced the inability to buy groceries, inability to afford balanced meals, cut the size of meals to make groceries last longer, didn’t eat even though they were hungry, lost weight caused by a lack of food availability or didn’t eat for a full day.

As a result of this study, many students, faculty, staff and administrators have been working hard to address issues of food insecurity for students and raise attention to the problem among others on campus and in the community. Kara Svercl, a second-year Social Work major, discovered food insecurity was a large problem last year when she served as a senator in Student Government.

“Addressing food insecurity on campus is a key part in retaining students and helping them be successful when they’re in school,” Svercl says. “What the research points to is that students who are food insecure are often working more hours per week than students who aren’t food insecure, meaning it’s not a lack of effort or a lack of desire to work, but rather there are so many cards stacked against [them]. As the cost of college increases, and now with the pandemic making everything more strained, it becomes more and more difficult than in generations past to maintain and pay for college while also paying for basic needs and finding that consistent balance.”

Svercl found a program called Swipe Out Hunger that works with colleges and universities to implement and amplify a range of anti-hunger programs across campus networks. These programs are sustainable, student-centric, innovative and destigmatizing, to provide students with the resources they need.

In Fall 2020, her hard work paid off when the program was brought to campus. Sodexo, the University’s food services and facilities management company, even donated almost 5,000 meal swipes to get the program off the ground. As the program progresses, students will be able to donate their unused meal swipes for other students to use, without any extra costs.

Students apply for these swipes through a low-barrier online application. When awarded, these meal swipes are loaded onto a student ID, just like dining dollars, so students can eat in the dining facilities on campus without anyone knowing they are using the program. It can restore that sense of just being a student without having the additional stressors caused by food insecurity.

There was an overwhelming response to the program in its first semester, when 387 students were served. In addition to receiving meal swipes, students are referred to a staff member who serves as a case manager role and then follows up with other resources that aid in student hunger.

One of those resources is the newly initiated Maverick Food Pantry. For years, various offices and organizations, including Student Government, Diversity & Inclusion, the Kearney Center for International Student Services and Residential Life, have been working together to open a food pantry on campus. The pantry is even more important now as students are unable to maintain steady work and income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Located in Carkoski Commons 142, the Maverick Food Pantry is open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at varying times to provide easy access to students. Any student is able to utilize the resource once a week to obtain a prepackaged box with canned goods, pasta or rice, canned meat, cereal, snacks, butter, milk, eggs, cheese, bread and a fresh meat option. Household and personal care items are also available as needed, including can openers, feminine hygiene products, toothbrushes and toothpaste.

“We are doing everything we can to make it a safe, warm and inviting experience,” says Megan Heutmaker, who is overseeing operations. “We are over in Carkoski, which is kind of tucked away in a corner… so it’s not super obvious what’s going on, but you can see where we are. We try to make the process as quick as possible as well.”

Although neither of these programs can fix the larger issue of food insecurity, they are both working hard to eliminate the stigma surrounding it and serve as contact points to meet the immediate needs of students. As a campus, Minnesota State Mankato has a long-standing commitment to serving the community and focusing on student success. Swipe Out Hunger and the Maverick Food Pantry are prime examples of responsive actions that focus on helping our students succeed.

To support the Maverick Food Pantry, click here.