Irene Ly: Food pantry strengthens GW’s focus on accessibility

The concept of “hunger” may seem distant to some GW students. They may not think hunger is a common problem on college campuses, where the “freshman 15” is an infamous concept. But food insecurity — which means not having access to enough nutritious, safe food, according to the United States Department of Agriculture — is becoming more prevalent on campuses across the U.S.

Three million college students per year visit food pantries to avoid going hungry, NPR reported. And in response to that striking statistic, GW opened a food pantry in District House this month — joining more than 300 universities across the country that offer pantries to students.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Irene Ly

It’s encouraging that officials took action to help food-insecure students. Opening a food pantry demonstrates that although GW tends to attract wealthier students because of its price tag, officials are aware that some students have a hard time making ends meet — for short or for long periods of time.

The University has been making efforts to increase GW’s accessibility to low-income students, most notably by adopting a test-optional policy last year, which resulted in an increased number of applications from first-generation and “underrepresented multicultural students.” Officials have also prioritized increasing financial aid for students. However, the obstacles for these students don’t end with the admissions process. Opening a food pantry fits in with GW’s other accessibility initiatives because it will encourage low-income students to enroll after they are accepted.

Many college students have to work to pay for their own personal expenses, for part their tuitions or their housing costs. A study done by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce found in the last 25 years, more than 70 percent of college students have worked while attending school. Many of those students may come from lower-income backgrounds, making the concept of asking their parents for money not an option.

Food insecurity involves more than just a growling stomach. Students who deal with food insecurity do not have enough money to buy food and might be forced to choose between eating and buying textbooks. These worries could ultimately affect their concentration. In a survey done by researchers at The Ohio State University, 34 percent of first-year students and 38 percent of seniors reported that economic concerns interfered with their academic performance.

Media Credit: Cartoon by Lauren Roll
Cartoon by Lauren Roll

And it’s clear that students who already attend GW needed this resource: At least 21 students have already said that they are in need of food and would use the pantry. That may not sound like a lot compared to the number of students enrolled at the University, but there are likely more students who need this resource who aren’t yet ready to admit it or who haven’t heard about it.

The timing of the food pantry’s opening is especially helpful because GW currently doesn’t offer a main dining hall, and the food vendors in District House haven’t opened yet. With fewer available affordable food options, students in need of healthy and affordable food don’t have anywhere to go.

Being able to afford to not only eat but eat nutritious food can be especially challenging for some students. Fruits and vegetables are expensive, especially when Whole Foods is the closest grocery store to the Foggy Bottom campus. Access to an on campus food pantry will make it possible for students to stay healthy even when money is tight.

Students pursuing higher education should never fear going hungry or worry so much about their finances that they can’t concentrate in class. The new food pantry can adequately feed students and attract more low-income students.

Irene Ly, a junior majoring in psychology, is the Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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