Indiana food aid groups work to meet college students’ food needs

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Per state data, there were nearly 625-thousand Hoosiers on SNAP as of March. (Adobe Stock)

The end of the semester is approaching for Hoosier students, and food aid groups across the state are working to ensure folks have enough to eat during final exams and beyond.

A survey of more than 350 campus food banks by the organization Swipe Out Hunger found the same banks have distributed more than one million pounds of food to 152,000 students across the nation.

Gigi Brown, director of IvyCares, which oversees Ivy Tech’s student-run Bear Necessities food bank, said demand typically spikes at certain times each year, most notably during holidays and the summer.

“Summer has a great demand, primarily because a lot of our students being nontraditional have families, their children are home from school,” Brown observed. “You will see quite a bit of demand during the summer.”

Brown pointed out the summer spike in demand will likely be worse this year, as Indiana is ending enhanced pandemic Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), benefits. Starting in June, the SNAP benefit amount a household receives will once again be based on various eligibility factors such as household size, income and allowable deductions. Residents can check online to see if they qualify for SNAP, and Feeding Indiana’s Hungry has an online database of its member food banks.

According to an analysis by the Congressional Research Service, food insecurity can be a significant barrier to completing a degree, particularly for students from low-income households. Brown noted the enhanced SNAP benefits are expiring as demand remains high.

“The demand hasn’t gone away at all,” Brown emphasized. “It’s primarily, I believe, because of the elevated cost of food.”

Recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture found the average cost of groceries rose 3.5% in both 2020 and 2021.

Jessica Fraser, director of the Indiana Community Action Poverty Institute, said by default, most college students do not qualify for SNAP, unless they meet certain exemptions. She added while there are numerous proposals to address college students’ food insecurity, finding a holistic strategy which works for Indiana is tricky.

“We don’t want to just throw a whole bunch of money at something without a plan,” Fraser contended. “But at the same time, it is going to take concerted effort, and collaboration and coordination and investment to make it work.”

Fraser added a comprehensive strategy should have wraparound support, and take into account students’ child care, housing and transportation needs, among many other criteria. According to The Associated Press, more than a dozen states either have ended or are about to end their enhanced SNAP programs.

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