Columbia’s Food Insecurity Has Not Been Healed
Written by Ross Chapman
Food insecurity became a big issue on campus back in 2015, but its prominence on the activism scene has since diminished–Senior Staff Writer Ross Chapman checked in on the progress of various student groups that have been working to combat hunger within the student body.
2015 was a year of hope for food insecurity on campus. The First-Generation Low-Income Partnership (FLIP) launched their Class Confessions Facebook page in March, putting pressure on the administration and student council to deal with the pressing concerns of their student body. CCSC, ESC, and GSC came together to create initiatives to combat the issue. FLIP raised over $6,000 to supply for low-income student needs. In fact, the term “food insecurity” only became tags on Bwog and the Columbia Spectator in 2015, to give a hint as to how important the year was for making Columbia aware of the issue. But as the year faded into the past, so too did the enthusiasm of the student body.
Last September, Ben Makansi and Viv Ramakrishnan spearheaded an effort to fight food insecurity. Bwog reached out to CCSC’s former President and VP of Policy to learn more about their programs and purposes. In our 2015 evaluation, we saw these short-term solutions as intermittently helpful if enough Columbia students participated. A year later, we can conclude that the efforts have had minimal effects.
Swipes is dead. The student-led half of CCSC’s “two-pronged approach” to fight food insecurity hasn’t had an update posted to the Google Play store since November 13th, 2015. According to the Whois data of getswipes.com, Swipes did not renew their website after its first year. Starting on August 10, 2016, the URL switched to a generic redirect website, and as of this week, getswipes.com is totally inactive. While the app is technically still usable, its concept depended on dozens of Columbia students offering up meal swipes. Soon after the app’s release, it faced resistance from FLIP, and after a first month of promise, Swipes is all but nonexistent. The makers of Swipes did not respond to inquiries in March or September of this year.
The Emergency Meal Fund (EMF) did not fare much better. When originally announced, CCSC told Bwog that the EMF had the capability to provide 6 emergency meal vouchers to up to 830 students. How many students accessed this? According to the counts CCSC released in March 2016, 40. The EMF, meant to redistribute meal swipes in order to provide students with emergency options, had a small reach and could only help so many times per semester. It has faded into obscurity, having not been mentioned in any correspondences from CCSC since October 2015. CCSC did not respond to a request for comments on food insecurity.
Of the students who accessed the EMF, 40% of them were General Studies students. So it shouldn’t surprise that GSSC has taken steps this semester to help students facing food insecurity. On April 20th, GSSC announced a $1,000 contribution to the creation of a food bank.
Michael Higgins, Chair of the GSSC Food Bank, referred to the effort as “a student-run, student-organized, and student-funded initiative to provide non-perishable food to GS students who have any level of food insecurity.” The GSSC Food Bank accepts donations from all students, and will disburse to GS students in need. This exploratory program is meant as a pilot to determine whether or not expansion is justifiable. At this moment, deposits and disbursements can be made by appointment by emailing email@example.com. In the future, GSSC plans to have food bins placed at strategic locations on campus. “FLIP has been influential in getting the word out about the Food Bank via social media,” said Higgins. “We intend on making FLIP, as well as other student-run organizations, a major part of the growth of the Food Bank.” At the moment, FLIP and the food bank are not formally involved or affiliated.
FLIP themselves will attempt to maintain their active role on campus for the coming year. Vincente Martinez, co-chair of FLIP’s Food Insecurity Committee, said that FLIP will continue to run CU Meal Share and administer their food insecurity survey. “As for new events,” Martinez elaborated, “we are also planning on hosting free food events in order to raise awareness of food insecurity on campus, tentatively in October.” The $6,420 raised by FLIP in 2015 was collected by FLIP National, FLIP’s parent group “concerned with FG-LI groups at several universities, offering a platform of effective collaboration between these groups.” FLIP National is quiet as an umbrella organization, with a blank website and a 15-like Facebook page. The group, which was formed with five Columbia students on its board of directors, issued their microgrants in material forms such as prepaid Metrocards as opposed to cash. As FLIP at Columbia and FLIP National are different groups, FLIP at Columbia was unable to comment on the specifics of FLIP National’s microgrant allocation. FLIP at Columbia is also promoting a Lending Library running out of Butler 407-408 via their Facebook page this year.
As we noted last year, none of the solutions proposed this year or last do anything to systematically attack the causes and consequences of food insecurity. Swipes, the EMF, CU Meal Share, and the GSSC food bank all depend on the charity of students with resources in order to provide them to students in need. It would take a significant change in Columbia’s Financial Aid and Dining systems in order to appropriately combat the issues. Why can’t we just depend on the goodwill of students? Because if 2016 has proven anything about food insecurity, it’s that memory and the imperative to help are fleeting.
Update, 9/26/2016 at 12:06pm: CCSC has since responded to our request for comment. They clarified that the Emergency Meal Fund is still active, allowing each student in need 6 free meals per semester, and is now funded by Dining (so it no longer relies on student contributions).
College insecurities go beyond just tuition via PBS