by Rebekah Carter and Michael Nakaoka
You would never guess that the person next to you could be struggling to find their next meal, counting down the days until they can buy groceries, or wondering how they can afford makings of a basic sandwich. Food insecurity runs rampant throughout college campuses. Some wrongly believe that if you can afford to go to school, having enough money for food should not be an issue, yet 47 percent of four-year college students suffer from food insecurity.
Food insecurity is defined as a condition when people do not have the adequate resources to feed themselves, either nutritiously or, sometimes, at all. An article by Lisa Henry titled “Understanding Food Insecurity Among College Students” discusses different forms of food insecurity in terms of statistics based on race, age, and working status. She writes, “Researchers found that 21 percent of students were considered food insecure, and an additional 24 percent were at risk of becoming food insecure.”
With many college students living paycheck to paycheck and tuition costs on the rise, students cannot find the time to earn the extra money they might need to buy food. Working a full-time job and being a full-time student is nearly impossible. Students do not have enough time to sleep, let alone to make sure that they’re giving their body the nutrients it needs to have a successful college career.
As Denise-Marie Ordway points out, “As tuition rises and the other costs of college go up, campus administrators are forced to face a troubling reality: Many college students don’t get enough to eat. In response, hundreds of schools—from community colleges to Ivy League universities—have opened food pantries or stores selling subsidized groceries. Many students ages 18 to 49 are not eligible for the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as [SNAP].”
College students both nationwide and worldwide are faced with the struggle of choosing between their education, or working a job, or getting enough sleep. Many colleges and universities cannot afford to fund the kinds of student support programs that cover food insecurity, and they also do not get much help from the government.
As Michael Mitchell, Michael Leachman and Matt Saenz make clear, “Higher education institutions have less money to spend on student support programs. State funding has decreased by 25% per student over the last 30 years, and states have cut $9 billion from higher education in the last ten years alone. In public universities, budget cuts have led to significant reductions in student services.”
Baylor University is a private school, and it’s a costly one to attend, even with the help of financial aid. Baylor’s cheapest meal plan is $850.69 a semester, but this program only includes a block of 65 meals and $225 dining dollars for a whole term. This plan simply cannot support a student’s nutritional needs across an entire semester, which can lead to a student struggling to make ends meet and performing poorly in classes due to hunger and fatigue.
However, Baylor University’s hunger initiative The Fridge is one of many projects that the university has engaged in recent years to help end food insecurity among its students. Baylor Alumnus Jorge Vielledent founded The Fridge in the 2018-2019 school year to provide healthy meals to students who suffer from food insecurity. Now with ten fridges available across heavily populated areas on campus, The Fridge has become a savior for those who struggle to find their next meal.
“[People think] if they can afford the tuition, then they can afford food and everything they need to pay per month,” Vielledent said. “But there’s still a lot of students on our campus who cannot afford even the groceries or to go out and buy textbooks.”
As a graduate student, Vielledent worked alongside Mr. Smith Getterman in trying to establish a free food initiative to meet the needs of hungry students. Initially, providing free snacks for students was piloted by Dr. Hugh Riley, a Program Director in the Psychology and Neuroscience Department, who kept a minifridge stocked with sandwich supplies for any hungry students who wanted or needed them. Based on Riley’s simple but powerful idea, Vielledent worked closely with Mr. Getterman to find locations for a campus-wide mini-fridge initiative, reaching out to people who might be interested in housing a fridge in their office or rooms.
Both a Baylor alum and the Director of Sustainability and Special Projects at Baylor for over the last decade, Smith Getterman became involved with The Fridge to combat the stereotypes that people have about the affluence of Baylor students.
“I went to Baylor; I kind of came from a very privileged background. But even going to Baylor and working at Baylor, you very quickly learned there are a lot of people at Baylor that do not have the same background,” Getterman said.
The Fridge is a service that’s available for all Baylor students. The Fridge has helped students from all backgrounds, varying from Baylor’s First In Line students, students whose parents have lost their jobs, students on scholarship, and more. Baylor students often get pushed into the stereotype of coming from wealthy families, families with luxury cars and big houses in rich neighborhoods, so it’s hard for many people to look beneath the surface level and see things that complicate this narrative. People not familiar with Baylor University and who only know Baylor students as stereotypes should come on to our campus and meet Baylor’s real students to see the diversity that there is on campus.
“I don’t think people realize how many students we have on scholarship and how many students we have that are on full-ride scholarships,” Getterman said in an interview.
The Fridge was designed to provide quick and healthy snacks for hungry students and offer extra food without the stigmas that often come with hunger. The Fridge is working to end such stigmas about food insecurity, in collaboration with The Food Insecurity Working Group, whose mission is clear: to end hunger across college campuses and give students a safe place to access and to enjoy food.
A student worker for The Fridge, Meg Lewis of Dallas, TX, explains that this free food initiative provides anonymous support for students who do not have access to food at all times. The Fridge was designed as an anonymous service to combat any stigmas behind being hungry and needing to grab some food.
“The Fridge is important because food security is directly linked to physical and mental wellness and academic performance, and The Fridge gives a steady supply of food to those who need it,” Lewis said.
In its few short years on campus, The Fridge initiative has only had upsides, no downsides. What started as a single mini-fridge in one professor’s office has now transformed into over 12 fridge locations. There are currently ten fridges on Baylor’s Waco campus located at Moody Library, Bobo Spiritual Life Commons, Center for Global Engagement, Multicultural Affair Office, The BARC, the Student Life Center, Truett Seminary, Baylor Counseling Center (Dutton), Baylor Counseling Center (in the SLC), and the Martin House. There are also two additional fridges located at Baylor’s Louise Herrington School of Nursing in Dallas, TX.
And yet, even with all these Fridge locations across campus, the Baylor student body still needs to be educated about how and where to use this free food resource.
“Baylor needs to educate more students about the resources available. An excellent way would be to utilize social media and have professors speak about this to their classes. This would especially carry in classes that are directly related to health and nutrition,” said Lewis.
The Fridges on campus have a much more significant impact than may first meet the eye. In 2020 during the pandemic, Getterman has kept an operating Fridge outside of his own office on the second floor of Moody Library, and he’s noticed that it’s been used roughly 50 times per week. Getterman takes the funding for this Fridge out of his own pocket.
“Some other departments are finding ways to fund [fridges] from their departmental funds, but I have not been able to convince my budget office to fund The Fridge. It’s difficult to buy groceries with Baylor’s money,” Getterman said, meaning that University budgets aren’t meant to be spent on groceries.
Those who run The Fridge across campus also take into consideration student’s dietary restrictions and the need to maintain sanitary conditions. All of the food is pre-packaged, no food touches each other, and no reusable silverware is used.
“So even if you were kosher, you could technically come to our fridge. And in fact, I don’t think we use any non-kosher products…. But you know, if you’re vegan or vegetarian, it’s not an issue because you’re able just to walk up and pick what you want…. If we have [an] Uncrustable [option], and you’re gluten-free…, you’ve got other options there,” said Getterman.
Although all of the fridges are constantly stocked, and the type of food offered is rotated as much as possible, Lewis would like to see The Fridge program continue to expand and to improve.
“The first thing to come to mind is fresher and more nutritious foods. I hope to see The Fridge coordinate with local farms and grocery stores to get excess food. This would help with the money situation for the fridges as well as for overall better nutrition,” said Lewis.
Due to the low key spots around campus where the fridges are located, students have felt more comfortable utilizing this resource, especially without the stress of having to fill out paperwork to access free food.
“I don’t think that that’s what people are coming to the fridge for. One of the things that appeal about the fridge is I can get in there and get out, don’t have to talk to anybody. Maybe I am that sorority girl whose dad lost her job, lost his job. None of my friends know,” Getterman said. “It’s been the anonymity of the Fridge that has been the key to success, the way we track who’s using it they have to walk by my office to get to it.”
While The Fridge project provides food for students in need, it’s also an opportunity for students to make anonymous prayer requests, which can provide them with the extra care they need beyond feeding the body, no matter the situation.
“Last year, I just randomly had the idea of putting a little prayer request box on [the mini-fridge]. And now if you come to our fridge, there’s a mailbox and some index cards. It just says how we can pray for you, and you don’t have to write your name. There’s no identification or anything like that,” Getterman said.
The Fridge has been an essential resource for students on Baylor’s campus. It’s an initiative that was created by a former student for current students. In the end, the inspiration behind The Fridge comes from Christian principles: a desire to help others and to take care of the community.
“100% the most meaningful part of it is just knowing that someone, somewhere, is having a better day because of what we’re able to offer them. These are humans using these, and these humans are going through more than just food insecurity,” Getterman said. “There are a lot of students who are dealing with a lot of stuff that they’re not telling other people about. I think that food insecurity is one of them, but I think it’s also a symptom of…bigger problems in that individual’s life. So if we’re able even to help just a little bit, that’s one of the most rewarding things for me.”
The Fridge is a program that shouldn’t just be a part of Baylor’s campus; it’s one that should be adopted at colleges and universities across the United States. It’s time that all universities rally together and support their students with every resource possible to ensure that food insecurity does not debilitate college campuses.
“I hope that ten years from now, whether I’m working at Baylor or not, my sincere hope is that something like The Fridge is as much of a part of Baylor as the bear habitat or Welcome Week is,” Getterman said. “These are programs that Baylor offers, not just something Smith Getterman is trying to pull through. I hope that in ten years, these [fridges] will just be a part of Baylor.”
While Baylor University is leading the charge in the fight against campus food insecurity, we as a nation needs to hear the cries of help coming from our college-age students. So check-in with those around you and try to generate an open discussion with someone if you believe they may be hungry. Help them understand that they have nothing to be ashamed of and that there are many resources available to them, such as The Fridge. This call to action is particularly directed at Baylor faculty and academic advisors, for its our educators such as Mr. Getterman and Dr. Riley who can help change the face of food insecurity more than anyone else.
Ways to help include:
- Keeping snacks or food supplements in your office.
- Donating to The Fridge.
- Generating an open conversation about food insecurity and mental health; and
- Volunteering at, and donating to, your local food pantry.
For more information about the Hunger Initiatives at Baylor University, Visit: https://www.baylor.edu/hungerandpoverty/