Posted October 11, 2014 by Cooper Point Journal in Community

Food and Education


There is an increasing struggle among college students to afford and access food as well as maintain housing. In a research article by Dr. Danielle Gallegos and Kai Ong claim  “There are different levels of food security from worrying about where your next meal is going to come from, to skipping meals or reducing the size of meals to the more severe form when adults and children in a household are feeling hungry.”

Jess Mahan is a 20-year-old native Comanche and Hawaiian attending The Evergreen State College with a focus in Indigenous Studies and Law. She is paying for her education almost entirely by taking out loans, with the exception of the federal Pell Grant she was awarded for one year. She comes from a family of nine with a single mother and knows what it feels like to be hungry.

“I guess you just get used to being hungry all the time,” Mahan said.

It’s so stressful trying to sit in class, wondering if I’m going to have enough money at the end of the month, or when the next grocery run will be.” -Jess Mahan

Mahan was homeless for her first two years as a student at Evergreen. Now that she has a home, she still struggles regularly with money and obtaining food.

Mahan said that the Thurston County Food Bank has helped her a lot since she moved to Olympia from Port Orchard in Kitsap County. When times are tougher than usual and she is unable to get to the food bank, she has food stockpiled, something she has been doing since she was a child. She lives and pays rent completely with her financial aid, odd jobs, and the occasional help of friends in her community.

The summers are especially difficult because she does not go to school and does not receive financial aid. Because she is a full-time student, she does not qualify for food stamps, otherwise known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, to apply for SNAP as a single student, you must work at least 20 hours a week or receive some form of government aid such as work study. This is an issue for student employees who are only allowed to work a maximum of 19 hours a week and do not qualify for work study.

Mahan does not qualify for work study. Her family’s expected contribution, according to the FAFSA, is around $22,000. Her single mother only makes $30,000 a year and is still raising her seven siblings. On top of the financial burden is the hunger itself and worrying about paying the rent and obtaining food month-to-month.

“It’s so stressful trying to sit in class, wondering if I’m going to have enough money at the end of the month, or when the next grocery run will be, ” Mahan said.

While some may not like to think of hunger and homelessness in the student population, these are huge hurdles to getting an education that many Evergreeners face.

According to Roger Hughes, a professor of health professional education at Bond University,  “There is considerable evidence from multiple studies that food insecurity has negative impacts on academic outcomes among children of various age groups.” Education is important to our society if we want to improve our quality of life.

One possible reason for this growing dilemma of food insecurity is the rise in tuition rates. In 2012, President Obama made a proposal to make college tuition more affordable. Vice President Joe Biden went to Florida State University in Tallahassee and spoke on the issue: “Nationwide, tuition at public universities is up almost 300 percent. You are an exception at Florida State. But it is up almost 300 percent in the last 20 years.”

While we have heard a lot about rising tuition and student debt, the issues of hunger and homelessness among students have been largely ignored. In the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights it states that part of a person’s basic human rights is to a healthy standard of living for themselves and their families, including having access to food.

“I worry if my siblings are eating enough. I worry about my school work. I worry about what I am going to eat next week,” said Mahan.