The Hoya Hub, an on-campus food pantry, has expanded to 130 signups in the three months since its opening, but more may be utilizing the pantry, as the Hoya Hub does not track exact usage statistics.
The pantry opened in October 2018 following a 2016 Georgetown University Student Association survey in which 54 percent of respondents reported experiencing food insecurity on campus. The Hoya Hub seeks to alleviate food insecurity on campus by providing food through its on-campus location in the Leavey Center.
The Hoya Hub encourages pantry users to indicate their use of the pantry through an online form, but completion of the form is not necessary to obtain the access code to the pantry.
Of the pantry users who filled out the voluntary form, 66 percent are undergraduate students, 25 percent are graduate students and 9 percent are staff or alumni. Class breakdowns were roughly even across the four years of undergraduates, with juniors accessing the pantry most and sophomores the least.
Sixty-six percent of students who completed the form said they did not have a campus meal plan.
Georgetown can do more to address food insecurity on campus beyond offering the food pantry as a resource, Research and Writing Fellow at Food Tank Katherine Walla (SFS ’19) said.
Georgetown could re-evaluate whether its meal plans, which offer varying amounts of meal swipes and flex dollars, leave students with sufficient funds for food, Walla said.
Graduate students face a different set of financial circumstances than undergraduate students, with low stipends or hourly wages that do not extend into the summer months, according to Chad Frazier, a Ph.D. candidate in the history department and member of the Georgetown Alliance of Graduate Employees organizing committee, the leadership committee for the graduate student union.
“So what happens is you have to make a living and make ends meet,” Frazier said. “And the way a lot of grad students do that is by skipping a meal.”
GAGE worked with the Hoya Hub to spread awareness about the pantry among graduate students, Frazier said, citing a disconnect between graduate students and campus resources. GAGE also helped hold a food drive for the pantry.
Efforts to reach out to Georgetown staff, such as translating Hoya Hub promotional materials into Spanish, also resulted in a quick uptick in the use of the pantry by staff members, according to Hoya Hub chair Caroline Barnes (COL ’19).
In a continued attempt to move beyond the nonperishable food items offered by the pantry, the Hoya Hub partnered with The Tavern, Sweetgreen’s indoor farmers market, to provide students with $10 coupons for fresh produce.
Through this partnership, the Hoya Hub hopes provide healthy, balanced meals to students, according to Barnes.
“We’re really trying to push, instead of just snacking, a whole, sustainable meal, especially for those who don’t have a meal plan,” Barnes said.
At The George Washington University, students are set to launch a program called Last Call For Food on Jan. 28, which discounts food at campus locations toward the end of the day for students experiencing food insecurity.
The program’s leaders are planning to expand to Georgetown and American University, according to LCFF co-founder and GWU senior Chloe King. In December, the group began efforts to expand to Hilltoss, the salad restaurant in the Healey Family Student Center owned by Students of Georgetown, Inc., commonly known as the Corp, according to King.
Beyond providing donated or discounted food, increased awareness of students’ eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program could potentially help alleviate food insecurity, according to Walla.
A recent Government Accountability Office report found almost 2 million low-income students may have been eligible for SNAP but were not receiving the benefits.
Yet eligibility issues can arise for students who are enrolled in college more than half time, according to Walla.
“If you’re enrolled over half-time, you’re not eligible because you’re assumed to have your parents’ financial support or support from colleges,” Walla said. “But, as we know, that’s not the case.”
Many full-time students may remain unaware of exceptions that could make them eligible, such as working more than 20 hours per week.
The GAO report recommended that the Food and Nutrition Service provide clarification for college students on eligibility.
Once the Hoya Hub obtained a location in the Leavey Center in September, the group raised the necessary funds to open the following month through SaxaFund, Georgetown’s student-run crowdfunding platform.
The Hoya Hub has raised $1,625 of its $3,000 goal through its page on SaxaFund. The group also has an official Georgetown donation page. A range of students, professors, alumni and family members have donated, according to Barnes.
In December, the Hoya Hub received a $5,000 grant from the Masonic and Eastern Star Home Charities for 2019. Barnes expressed hope that the grant would be renewed for the following year, and that a combination of grants and donations would sustain the effort going forward.
Space, rather than funds, is the Hoya Hub’s greatest challenge going forward, according to Barnes. Although Barnes plans to continue to advocate for more space for the Hoya Hub on campus, she estimates expansion could take more than one year.
“I think the Hoya Hub is going to be a fixture on campus moving forward,” Barnes said. “I just don’t know with the existing space we have on campus whether that will be realistic even in the next year or so.”