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More Money for Food Pantries at NM Colleges, Universities

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Tuesday, April 26, 2022   

More than half of Native American students at the University of New Mexico face food insecurity, with Hispanics second-most affected, at 35%.

The rising costs of tuition, student fees, housing and transportation have made food insecurity on campus a nationwide problem, with more colleges and universities opening food pantries and also referring students to other social services.

Sarita Cargas, associate professor of human rights at the University of New Mexico (UNM), said there are about 750 food pantries on college campuses, but not enough data to know how well they're working.

"Our focus groups have told us the problems they find with the food pantry," Cargas reported. "A huge one is stigma. Culturally appropriate foods, fresh foods ... lack of fresh foods can be a problem in a pantry."

Cargas led a survey, which found nearly one in four UNM students described themselves as food insecure. Since it was released, the New Mexico Higher Education Department has approved $20,000 grants to each of five higher education institutions to establish student food pantries.

In addition to ethnic disparities in student hunger, Cargas said UNM research found 48% of gay and lesbian students were unsure where their next meal was coming from, and slightly more women than men face the concern. She noted a direct correlation between graduating from college and food insecurity, and worries not enough questions are being asked.

"What are the causes of Native American student hunger versus LGBTQ+ student hunger, versus international student hunger, and therefore, what are the needs? What are the solutions?" Cargas remarked. "I mean, the pantry is just a band-aid."

Cargas would like to see colleges offer grocery gift certificates and make dining-hall meals more accessible, to reduce what the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as "low" or "very low" food security.

"Low food security just means you don't have access to as good of calories, as nutritious," Cargas explained. "You might not go hungry, but you might be eating junk. Very low food security means you have instances of unrelieved hunger."


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