Saturday, April 20, 2024

Centenary joins statewide program to address hunger and food insecurity on college campuses

by BIZ Magazine

SHREVEPORT, LA — In August 2023, Centenary College became one of four private Louisiana higher education institutions to be designated a “hunger-free campus” by the Louisiana Board of Regents. After a 2020 national study indicated that approximately 29% of students at four-year colleges and 38% at two-year institutions experience food insecurity, with even greater numbers for students of color, Baton Rouge State Representative Barbara Freiberg sponsored Act 719 of the 2022 Regular Legislative Session to establish criteria for Louisiana higher education institutions to earn a hunger-free campus designation and authorized the Hunger-Free Campus competitive grant program to support the institutions in their efforts.

Centenary joins Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University, Loyola University New Orleans, and Tulane University as the first private Louisiana institutions to earn the Hunger-Free Campus designation. All 31 of the state’s public higher education institutions are also participating in the new program.

Campuses seeking the Hunger-Free Campus designation had to establish a Hunger-Free Task Force and complete a multi-round application process designed to evaluate the task force’s activities and potential effectiveness. Campuses were asked to hold or participate in at least one anti-hunger awareness event during the academic year, to create a plan for informing students who receive need-based financial aid of their potential eligibility to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and to provide information about access to charitable food donation sources or food pantries available in their immediate communities.

Jaspen Charles, a native of Cecilia, Louisiana, in his third year at Centenary, is a member of Centenary’s Hunger-Free Task Force. Charles, a double major in French and English, had the idea in the spring 2023 semester to create a small food closet on campus to provide non-perishable items to all Centenary students. After sharing his idea with several Centenary staff members, Charles learned that the College was actively pursuing the Hunger-Free Campus designation and was asked to join the task force led by Dean of Students Mark Miller.

Rev. Lindy Broderick serves as Centenary’s chaplain and is a member of the Hunger-Free Task Force along with fellow staff members Holly Grose and Erica Johnson.

“When Centenary evaluated the idea of establishing a Food Closet or a Food Pantry on campus, we learned that we can actually partner with existing community resources to provide food for our students,” said Broderick. “Since our community partners at the Northwest Louisiana Food Bank and Noel UMC Food Pantry are already providing these services and many of our students meet the community criteria of these agencies, we’ve been able to connect our students to these resources. We are also providing information on how students can apply for local government food programs for which they may be eligible.”

As a member of the task force, Charles helped organize a campus event to build student awareness about food insecurity in the community as well as strategies for making better, more nutritious decisions. The task force also worked with Centenary’s Sodexo Dining Services to extend hours at the Caf from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. with self-serve areas available between regular dining times.

“Having this designation for the campus is a huge thing, because it shows that the College cares about its students, hears the struggles of the students, and wants to help students succeed in any way possible,” said Charles. “I think it’s a major stress relief not having to worry about where your next meal will come from, especially if you are staying on campus during a designated ‘vacation’ or break time. There is still a long way to go to make sure that this designation isn’t just a title, but I know that the Hunger-Awareness Task Force will make sure that all students have the proper resources to remain healthy and have full bellies!”

36.5% of undergraduate students at Centenary are Pell Grant-eligible, indicating that they have very significant financial need. Centenary provides over $17 million in scholarships each year to make it possible for academically strong students to get a high-quality private college education. In addition to the hunger-free initiative, Centenary is addressing the hidden costs of college in other ways, including eliminating student fees, free laundry, and free tickets to all athletic, cultural, and entertainment events for students.

According to a media release from the Louisiana Board of Regents, the next step for the Hunger-Free Campus Program will be to develop a grant application format and process for implementation in Spring 2024. Regents staff will coordinate with campuses to learn more about specific needs and gaps, create a Hunger Free Task Force listserv, partner Feeding Louisiana with the campuses, develop a BoR Hunger-Free Campus Program landing page containing a Best Practices Tool Kit and resources for campuses and students, and bring in a nationally recognized expert to share trends and best practices with Louisiana campuses.

“Too many Louisiana students enter college faced with financial pressures. How to pay for their next meal shouldn’t be one of them,” said Board of Regents chairman Collis Temple III in a media release. “I am especially impressed that campuses from all four of our public systems and several private campuses did the work to earn this designation and commend the Regents staff for launching the program and for going the extra mile to connect institution-based food pantries with Feeding Louisiana and offering additional resources for campuses to expand services as much as possible.”

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