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United Food Bank helps combat college hunger

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By Annika Tomlin

College students are faced with a plethora of challenges, from sleep deprivation and time management to stress management and figuring out a social life. Unfortunately, for some students one other major hardship is faced — hunger.

United Food Bank is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that assists low-income people living within the East Valley in obtaining wholesome and nutritious food.

“Sometimes people show up on campus and people need a meal right away, then other times they are trying to plan ahead a little bit, so they will want to do grocery shopping and get that kind of thing,” says Dave Richins, CEO and president of United Food Bank.

United Food Bank has three food pantries spread out on ASU main’s campus, Mesa Community College and Chandler-Gilbert Community College that offer an array of food choices, from prepared meals such as “a can of raviolis” to other pantry items to stock up on.

“Today’s generation a lot of time doesn’t plan ahead and they don’t necessarily have the thought of, ‘Hey, I need to go to the grocery store and buy this stuff,’ and then they may get caught in a situation where they may not have money and they may not have food so they need to turn to some help,” Richins says.

The food pantries on the campuses come into place to assist with providing meals to students and their families in need.

“I think most of what we put in there is donated products or purchased products by the food bank,” Richins says. “It is stuff that is a little bit more catered to the traditional college student.”

Richins did point out that “a large majority of today’s college students are not traditional” in the sense of being a 20-something straight out of high school student.

“You have working families, older students that may have returned for a degree. They will have a little bit different need than the typical ‘I need a meal right now’ type of younger folk,” Richins says. “We try to put both options in those food banks.”

While looking at what it means for college students to have food insecurities, Richins was surprised “by how many athletes suffer from food issues, and like Division 1 top athletes.” One of his longtime friends who played at LSU before playing for the Arizona Cardinals told him he had to skip meals “all of the time” because he didn’t have the money or resources to get what he needed.

“If you look at the families that are returning to school to finish a degree and all of the different ways that students look today, the one thing that is common for a lot of college students, whether traditional or not, they don’t have what they need in terms of the basic needs standpoint,” Richins says. “(That is) because they are sacrificing while they go through school.”

Outside of the food pantries on campus, Richins recommends a federal food assistance program called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is part of the Nutrition Assistance (formerly the Food Stamp Program). Find out more information at https://bit.ly/3AaM5wZ.

“Sometimes people feel guilty about going on SNAP, but it’s like you know you are going to be taxpayers for the rest of your life — they’ll pay it back tenfold,” Richins says.

“It’s really the primary way that college students should address their hunger issues. The second is going to those on college pantries, and maybe the third is the off-campus pantries if they live off campus.”

At the two community college pantries, Richins stated that they do a “monthly fresh produce distribution.”

“We are trying to give (students) what they need,” Richins says. “Those fresh produce distributions I think really supplemented those students.

“It was interesting, too, because I have been to a couple of them and (the students are) really energized by that. It wasn’t just canned goods; it was a lot of fruits and veggies. And they were like, ‘I could never afford to buy this’ or ‘It’s too risky to buy it,’ because if it goes bad, then they wasted all of their money.”

When asked what was the best way for others to help their fellow students to combat food insecurities, Richins said to “invite them over for dinner; invite them over for lunch. It provides socialization.”

“You can share a meal and you can have better nutrition and better healthy stuff if you are not just preparing a meal for one person,” Richins says. He also pointed out that one of the best ways to help with college hunger is “raising awareness” of the situation so it is not a taboo conversation.

“Knowing and understanding that you have resources that are available with SNAP and on-campus food pantries (helps),” Richins says.

“If there is an appeal that I can make to your readers, it would be to be cognizant of what your friends are going through, and if you recognize that there may be some food insecurities there, invite them over for a meal. Not only will you lift their spirits, but you’ll fill their bellies.” CT

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