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Food Security Task Force Works to Nourish UW Community

November 11, 2020

Up to 45 percent of University of Wyoming students experience food insecurity, according to a recent survey conducted by Kerry Schinkel, a master’s degree student in family and consumer sciences from Rawlins.

These students are unsure of where their next meal will come from or whether they actually have to skip meals, which harms their grade-point averages and academic performances, mental health and overall well-being.

To tackle this challenge, the UW Food Security Task Force recently formed a collaborative team of students, staff, faculty and administrators working to address food insecurity among UW students.

“We want the task force to be a trailblazer, leading the way in how we talk about and address food insecurity,” says Caitlin McLennan, Sustainability Coalition co-chair and undergraduate task force co-leader, from Monterey, Calif. “Ensuring dignified access to healthy, culturally appropriate food means we can nourish students both for academic and personal success. We are truly trying to take care of our community.”

In fall 2019, a resolution from the Associated Students of UW (ASUW) officially recognized the need to address UW student food insecurity. Building from that recognition, Greybull’s Anna Savage, then-ASUW director of wellness and sustainability, McLennan, and UW Professors Rachael Budowle and Christine Porter collaborated to form the UW Food Security Task Force.

They drew on the expertise of members from numerous UW units and departments, including Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources, Family and Consumer Sciences, and Kinesiology and Health. The core of the task force, however, is based in student leadership and a strategic partnership between the Sustainability Coalition and ASUW.

“ASUW recognized food insecurity as a major issue facing our students. Our strategic partnership with the Sustainability Coalition means we have many great minds working together to achieve interrelated solutions to student food insecurity,” says Courtney Titus, ASUW vice president and undergraduate task force co-leader, from Cheyenne.

Distributed food share cabinets, initially launched in the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources in 2017, served as a major inspiration for the task force’s student-led approach. A food-security strategy seemingly unique to UW, the now eight cabinets across campus have emerged from a collaboration among students, staff and faculty and an ethos of dignity, sharing and access for all without demonstration of need.

The task force aims to replicate this approach as it explores multiple interrelated strategies by addressing student food security: developing a central food hub blending an at-cost or subsidized grocery and food share pantry; placing meal swipe sharing at dining facilities; growing food at ACRES Student Farm; recovering good excess food from events and dining facilities; and expanding and supporting food share cabinets.

The task force has already realized success with these strategies through the UW Food Share Pantry, operated by the Dean of Students Office this semester. What started as a temporary space receiving support from a range of partners -- including Laramie Interfaith and Albany County United Way -- during the COVID-19 shutdown, is now a permanent place for UW students and employees to access food.

The UW Food Share Pantry, in Room 106 of Knight Hall, currently uses an online order and pickup system to limit contact. During operational hours, the Food Share Pantry accepts perishable, refrigerated and frozen food contributions. Nonperishable food is accepted outside Room 128 of Knight Hall or in the box across from the information desk in the Wyoming Union.

To support these multiple strategies, the task force has produced two reports, applied for funding and connected with numerous leadership groups, including staff and faculty senates and the UW Board of Trustees Academic and Student Affairs Committee. Beyond UW, the task force has begun networking with community colleges across the state and even had an opportunity to share its success with Wyoming first lady Jennie Gordon, in connection with her Wyoming Hunger Initiative.

“Since its formation, the support for the task force has been phenomenal,” McLennan says. “Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and budget cuts, student leaders, staff, administration and faculty have paved the way for collaborative efforts to end student food insecurity together.”

For updates and to become involved in helping to end food insecurity at UW, follow the task force on Facebook and Instagram. Learn more about the UW Food Share Pantry at www.uwyo.edu/dos/student-resources/food-pantry.html.

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