An interview with Laura Bunyan, Ph.D.
Associate Professor in Residence
Department of Sociology
By Danielle Blaine, Site Director, Food Rescue US – Fairfield County
Prior to the pandemic, a staggering 30 percent of all college students experienced food insecurity at some point in their college careers. According to the most recent Hope Survey from the Fall of 2020, “38 percent of students in two-year colleges and 29 percent of students at four-year colleges reported experiencing food insecurity in the previous 30 days”, according to Health Affairs Forefront.
There are many reasons that college students face food insecurity: The high cost of a college education, low-income, expensive housing options, and access to affordable food options. College meal plans are expensive and often a community college or university branch has very limited dining options. With more than 20 million college students in America alone, this means that millions of college students are at risk of facing hunger.
We took a few minutes to interview Professor Laura Bunyan, Associate Professor in the Residence Department of Sociology, University of Connecticut – Stamford Branch. She and her students recently opened and staffed a pop up food pantry in the main campus building to combat the food insecurity crisis that she saw amongst many of her students.
1) The UCONN Stamford Food Pantry opened this past March. What led you to build this program at this time?
Food insecurity has long been an issue on campus. The pandemic worsened an already existing issue. Last semester many students were not completing their coursework. When we probed the issue further the underlying cause for some was inability to afford textbooks. So we are working on this issue. But when students can’t afford textbooks, especially when they may be $20 for a class, they can’t afford food. We then started surveying students to see what they needed and food was one of the important items. We have found that about 30% of our students are food insecure.
2) How many students does the pantry serve?
It is early, but we are seeing about 50 each day.
3) What are the other basic items the students most request?
4) What are the barriers to having students’ food insecurity needs addressed?
The food pantry is a starting point. We would like to offer greater quantities of food to students to help more. One of the biggest challenges we face is not being open enough hours and days per week but we need more institutional support for this. We need a full-time Wellness Coordinator to take over from here to ensure all of the students’ needs are met. This will also allow the pantry to be open more hours and serve more students.
5) How can our community support the food pantry?
Food donations are wonderful. We have donation bins on campus in front of the Welcome Center, Center for Career Development and in the Library. Our biggest needs are peanut butter, jelly, cereal, pasta, sauce, ramen noodle cups, and oils for cooking. We also have an Amazon wish list that people can purchase from, items ship straight to campus. Lastly we have an account that people can donate money to which we use to purchase highly requested items typically at places like Costco.
Support the pantry!