The underbelly of Chapman University is grumbling, and no one is talking about it.
Chapman’s steep price of attendance sometimes results in students cutting spending costs. One of the most common corners on the chopping block is food and nutrition. Luckily for these students, there is a one-stop shop solution to their unacknowledged food insecurity: Morlan Hall’s food pantry.
You did not know about it? Many do not. It is one of the hidden, life-saving gems of dorm life.
For students looking to gain access to the food pantry, all it takes is four simple steps:
First, students need to fill out the Google Form that can be found on Chapman’s Campus Resources website. Here is the link: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfXQu4xcZoHT2E90TPpDdMslB9Qy8eWQvIk0d7XQahczTOaBg/viewform.
Once the form is filled out, Annessa Garcia, who runs the food pantry, will email the applicants that they have been given key card access.
Next, they will have to encode their ID card using the black card encoder located in one of three locations: the Rotunda inside the Leatherby Libraries, the Public Safety Office lobby, or the Central Residence Life Office in the Davis Community Center.
With their ID card coded, students are able to enter the pantry and take whatever amount of food they need. But that is based on an honor system. And so far, students have been good about taking only what they need.
The food pantry helps solve a problem some students fail to realize: Starving can actually affect their education. University costs often come first and food gets thrown to the wayside as if it were an expendable luxury.
“Basic needs are essential to be able to just even think about academics. How are you going to think about getting an A in your class if you’re starving?” said Lisette Martinez-Gutierrez, case manager at the Dean of Students office.
Since its humble beginnings as a two-door cupboard with a combination lock, the food pantry has grown into its own room off of Morlan Hall’s kitchen located in the residence’s central lounge. Filled with nonperishable items like pasta, rice, microwavable meals, and more, Chapman’s food pantry was established to address the issue of hunger among students.
“Food insecurity can show up in a lot of different ways,” said Dave Sundby, director of residence life and first year experience. “Students are making difficult choices… saying well… I’m going to buy less food and not really eat to the point where I feel less full, or I’m going to skip meals because I don’t feel like I have the money to pay for that while I cover other expenses.”
Many university students face these circumstances, and Jade Michaels, a senior television writing and production major, is one of them.
Michaels did not know the resource existed throughout her three years at Chapman but just recently began using the food pantry’s services this fall. Being a first-generation college student, supporting herself financially has taken a toll on what Michaels can and cannot afford for her own personal health and wellness.
Over an extended period of financial struggle, every expense turns into a question of priority, and hunger becomes something that is difficult to ignore.
“I’m wearing really outdated glasses when I need new ones because of just money struggles… and I have to go to the dentist and I still haven’t… and groceries do add up a lot,” Michaels said.
Now that the food pantry is at her disposal, Michaels uses the money she would have otherwise spent on groceries for her other needs.It is not just Michaels, though. There are many students who face the difficult decisions of cost priority every day in both big and small ways.
“I stayed here during spring break… and I didn’t have enough money to buy food, so I just bought a 12-pack of ramen and ate that all week” said Lexi Johnson, a senior film production major. Johnson said that she would have loved to know that the food pantry was a resource for her during situations like these, rather than only finding out about the service during her final year at Chapman.
Smaller instances of food insecurity — like those that Johnson went through — are often characterized as the “typical college student diet”. Whether this food insecurity lasts for one week or four years, the need for financial support is a common thread that connects many students.
Eighty-eight percent of the total student population at Chapman receive some sort of financial aid, with an average scholarship amount of about $26,000 per year according to Niche, a data analystics website. However the cost of attendance still holds students accountable for tens of thousands of dollars each year, with tuition steadily on the rise.
“[Having been] a college student myself and not knowing where am I going to get dinner and being a first generation student… it’s still real, it’s college, and I know the expense of books has increased, tuition has increased, rent has increased, so I can imagine that this necessity that I needed ten years ago is still something that students need,” said Annessa Garcia, the resident director of Morlan Hall who oversees the operation of the food pantry.
Before Garcia took over the food pantry three months ago, students had to email a specific address and ask for permission to access the resource. Now, Garcia has implemented a new method of accessing the food. Students no longer have to write an explanation about why they need the pantry, instead they fill out a Google Form and are granted key card access to the room with no questions asked. At the end of the form, students can sign up to be contacted with a list of additional long-term resources outside of campus that help support various financial burdens, including steady access to food.
Since the food pantry access now works through the use of a student ID card, Garcia collects confidential data regarding the number of students that use the food pantry and how often.
The biggest issue that remains is many students still have no idea that the food pantry even exists.
Because of this, the staff have upcoming plans to increase advertising of the pantry through both online efforts and flyers that will be posted around campus and the university residences.
“I have a really strong passion in helping students, and the three months I’ve been here have been [about] how can I increase the awareness, how can I let students know this exists,” Garcia said. “Every university should have this resource because we have students in college; college is not cheap.”
With an increased advertising effort and more streamlined methods of access to the food pantry, only time will reveal the prevalence of food insecurity at Chapman. After new student data is collected, Garcia and her team will be able to update the food pantry to better suit students’ actual needs, and soon the grumbling stomachs could be silenced for good.