On the campus of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, the cafeteria is the main hub for eating and activities.
With the COVID-19 crisis limiting access and cutting into the hours of operation, however, students and staff are now adjusting.
“We’re kind of in a food desert, especially with like healthy food,” said Ashley Cosby, a Fisk University biology major. “It’s hard to find healthy food close to campus.”
Normally, more than 800 students would come there for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Now, it’s pickup only.
“It just brings me almost to tears,” said Natara Garvin, Assistant Vice President at Fisk University.
To help feed her students during these troubling times, Fisk recently partnered with Kroger grocery stores to create a food pantry and provide access to essential items.
“Some of our students aren’t working right now because of COVID, and so they have the chance to get the necessities that they need,” Garvin said.
Before the COVID-19 crisis, millions of Americans experienced food insecurity, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Experts say that number is now much higher, especially on college campuses.
“Around 30% college students were facing food insecurities prior to the pandemic. So, now we know that number is even greater,” said Melissa Eads, a Kroger spokesperson.
Kroger is working to feed college students across the country through the company’s Zero Hunger, Zero Waste program. This was started a few years ago, but has grown rapidly due to demand during the COVID-19 crisis.
“We want to make sure that having food to eat is not something that a college student is having to worry,” Eads said.
For students, this increased access to food could help them perform better academically.
“When a student is full, they’re not going to class hungry,” Garvin said. “They can pay attention and focus like they need to.”