Campus distribution event addresses food insecurity

Grand Canyon University students receive free bags of nonperishable food on Monday from the campus's Canyon Community Kitchen and Nutrition Club, which partnered with HonorHealth Desert Mission Food Bank. (Photo by Ralph Freso)
Students also received fresh produce. (Photo courtesy of Canyon Community Kitchen)

Devin Muñoz has seen his college friends go to events just for the snacks because they don’t have any food in their apartment.

“They joke around, ‘I don’t have any Dining Dollars,’” said the Grand Canyon University nutrition major.

It’s something Muñoz heard repeated on Monday at a food distribution by the campus’s Canyon Community Kitchen and Nutrition Club, which partnered with HonorHealth Desert Mission Food Bank.

The food bank brought nonperishable items — 500 bags filled with peanut butter, trail mix, pasta, pasta sauce and the like — as well as two pallets of produce to fill an additional 400 bags with tomatoes, grapes, apples and celery sticks.

“I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s a LOT of food,’” said Muñoz, a member of Canyon Community Kitchen. He thought the group couldn’t possibly give away all that food in the two-hour event on the Promenade.

“We ran out of all of that in one hour. … It was just crazy how fast it went,” said Courtney Baker, the campus’ Director of Nutrition and Dietetics, who heard students say, “Are you serious? What’s the catch? … I have $4 (of Dining Dollars) for the rest of the year.”

Director of Nutrition and Dietetics Courtney Baker shared an Arizona Board of Regents statistic: 44% of students from the state's largest universities reported that they suffered from high food insecurity.

Food insecurity has been called an invisible epidemic.

According to a Jan. 31, 2022, Health Affairs article, before the pandemic, a staggering 30% of all college students experienced food insecurity at some point in their college careers. And a Hope Survey from fall 2020 detailed how 38% of students in two-year colleges and 29% from four-year colleges reported experiencing food insecurity in the past 30 days.

Those numbers appear to be even more dire in Arizona. An Arizona Board of Regents report from 2021, which surveyed 167,000 students at Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University, discovered that 44% of them suffered from high food insecurity, and that some students (5% at ASU, 17% at UA and 25% at NAU) admitted to not eating on certain days because they didn’t have the money to purchase food.

The image of college students eating ramen noodles every day has become normalized, Baker said, and the idea of food insecurity similarly so.

Some of the nonperishable food students received. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

“ ‘I’m a staving college student.’ People say that so casually,” said Anne Costa, Community Resource Manager of HonorHealth Desert Mission Food Bank.

The Nutrition Club and Canyon Community Kitchen, originally a Wellness Research and Design Program group, want to change that. The mission is to give students who may be experiencing food insecurity access to nutritious food.

Monday’s food giveaway was the pilot event for that initiative.

“The goal was to actually show that students were interested and there’s a need,” said Costa, who worked with Baker in their previous roles at the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.

The Canyon Community Kitchen created a survey beforehand to gather data from GCU’s students who responded that they would be receptive to a food distribution.

“So we said, ‘Let’s go for it,’” said senior biology/pre-med major Monica Hernandez Santiago, a member of the Canyon Community Kitchen group along with Kassandra Micena and Muñoz, the primary organizers of the event.

About 900 bags of nonperishables and produce were distributed in an hour. (Photo courtesy of Canyon Community Kitchen)

When Hernandez Santiago and Micena were part of the Wellness Research and Design Program group, they organized smaller food giveaways but, this time around, wanted to reach out to the larger GCU community.

The food distribution was open to not just GCU students but anyone on the campus, and several workers took some of the food bags, as well.

“We just wanted to make an impact and give more opportunities to students to get more food. They run out of Dining Dollars, and since finals are approaching, we just wanted to help out students,” Hernandez Santiago said.

Not only have Dining Dollars dwindled away by the end of the semester, but some students do not receive help from family, who may not have the financial means to help. Add to that the skyrocketing prices of groceries in recent months.

According to Health Affairs, food insecurity while in college can have detrimental effects on students’ academic performance. Food-insecure students are more likely to fall into a lower GPA category, their ability to excel in class diminishes, and they are more likely to not attend class.

“I just read an article today sent out from Feeding America,” said Costa. “It said that a third of students know somebody who dropped out of college because of not having enough food and how important that is for learning.”

Canyon Community Kitchen timed the food distribution for this week because students are starting to run low on Dining Dollars. (Photo courtesy of Canyon Community Kitchen)

Muñoz pointed out that college students also don’t eat the healthiest food. To make their money stretch to the end of the year, they choose a lot of cheap fast food or highly processed food.

“A student said they hadn’t eaten (fresh) fruit this whole entire year,” Muñoz said, and as a nutrition student, handing out bags of fresh produce was important to him.

Everyone involved in the giveaway shared how shocked they were that those 900 bags of nonperishables and fresh produce went so quickly. It just showed them that there is a need on campus, one they want to fill.

Hernandez Santiago said the big thing she took away from Monday’s event was how grateful students were: “We’re happy to help our GCU community and more in the future as we begin to grow.”

The dream for the Nutrition Club and Canyon Community Kitchen is to set up a campus food pantry or food bank.

Said Muñoz: “Everybody deserves to have nutritious food.”

Internal Communications Manager Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.

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