College campus pantries across Arizona tackle food insecurity amidst rising consumer costs

Jane Florance and Sohi Kang, El Inde Arizona

One in five University of Arizona students are experiencing food insecurity right now, according to a 2022 UA Health and Wellness Survey. 

Food insecurity is defined as a person’s inability to provide three healthy, nutritious meals for themselves on a daily basis. Nutrition is especially important as students often rely on cheap, fast food. 

Each of Arizona’s three public universities operate food pantries for students in need to combat this issue.

Arizona State University had a 26% rate of food insecurity while Northern Arizona University had a 47% rate, according to a 2021 student food and housing insecurity report by the Arizona Board of Regents. The UA had a 35% insecurity rate, according to the report. 

A statewide problem with rising food costs

The economic situation makes having food security increasingly challenging with  the consumer price of food jumping 10.1% over a year ago, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics. 

Food prices are rising due to inflation, which is affected by multiple factors, said UA research economist Beatriz Del Campo-Carmona.

“Poverty rate increased, unemployment rate increased, and housing affordability declined – so there are many factors that affect food insecurity,” she said.

The effects of COVID-19 also left more people food insecure because of job disruptions. Households that experienced job disruptions had a food insecurity rate of 57%, compared to 19% for households that did not experience a disruption, according to a 2021 Map AZ Dashboard survey by UA senior research economist Jennifer Pullen.

“Inflation rising about 7-8% puts pressure on people as wages stay stagnant,” Pullen said.

Bridging the gap between the three universities

The goal of the three public universities’ food pantries is to provide a convenient and free way to find food. The pantries provide any student, faculty or staff member with groceries. 

Roughly 1,600 students visit the UA’s Campus Pantry on a weekly basis, senior coordinator of Basic Needs Center and Services Bridgette Reibe said in an email interview.

At Campus Pantry, though purchasing operations at this time have not been affected with inflation, it is becoming harder to provide pantry staples like eggs with the recent shortage.

“We are not decreasing the number of eggs purchased due to the costs, however, because of the shortages, we are not getting in the number of eggs ordered,” Reibe said in an email interview.

The egg shortages  nationwide come after an outbreak of bird flu late last year wiped out nearly 53 million chickens, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture

ASU’s Pitchfork Pantry serves about 600 people a week across its campuses, said the pantry’s faculty advisor Maureen McCoy.

But there is limited availability because Pitchfork Pantry is operated as a student-run club.

“Admin does not see the food pantry as the way to improve food security. We are entirely grant supported and obtain individual/community donations. We receive no funding (or on-campus space) from the university,” McCoy said in an email.

NAU had an average of 300-350 weekly visitors at its food pantry, Louie’s Cupboard, said advisor Azah Quach. 

Quach said being open to having a conversation about food insecurity is important, too. Many students do not even realize they are experiencing food insecurity because they do not entirely understand what it is. 

“Yes, you can go out and use your money to buy that food. But if you buy that food, is it putting you out on something else that you could have used the money for?” Quach said. “Be open to talking about it.”

Food pantry hours

University of Arizona’s Campus Pantry is open 2-6 p.m. Tuesdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays in the Sonora Room of the Student Union. Any student, faculty or staff member can access it with a CatCard or ID number. 

Northern Arizona University’s Louie’s Cupboard is open for distribution from 1-4 p.m. biweekly and 8 a.m.- 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays for grab-and-go bags at the Lumberjack CARE Center. Any student faculty or staff member can access the pantry.

Arizona State University’s Pitchfork Pantry is open at ASU’s Downtown Campus 2:30-4 p.m. Tuesdays. Their Tempe campus pantry is open Mondays 1:30-2:30 p.m. and Tuesdays 2-3 p.m. Their Polytech campus pantry is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays.

El Inde Arizona is a news service of the University of Arizona School of Journalism.

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