On Tuesday, March 21, 2017, at 6:00 p.m., SGA hosted the first-ever food insecurity forum on the UTM campus.
In collaboration with Sodexo, UTM is planning on instilling a “meal bank” that will allow students who do not have a meal plan or have run out of meals to receive meal swipes in the cafeteria that are donated by their peers. This program, dubbed “Skyhawks Share,” was explained in detail, with the first fundraiser set for Thursday, March 23.
Clickers were given to each attendee as they walked through the doors of the Watkins auditorium, and a few minutes after 6 the program began.
A survey was displayed on the projector screen in the front of the auditorium, allowing students to answer with a higher level of anonymity than a headcount survey. The questions were based on a Likert Scale of Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree and read as follows:
“I understand what it means to be food insecure.”
“College students are affected by food insecurity.”
“I know about resources available to students experiencing food insecurity.”
80% of attendees “Agreed” to knowing what food insecurity entailed, and 50% “Strongly Agreed” that food insecurity is affecting college students. SGA president Josh Diltz used these statistics drawn from the crowd directly to launch into his opening remarks on food insecurity at UTM.
“Food insecurity is an issue that has faced our campus, that has faced our state, that has faced our nation for as long as people have needed to eat.”
Diltz stressed the importance of an anonymous system which could provide meals to those who might otherwise feel stigmatized.
This is a big deal…” Diltz stated. “This is groundbreaking.”
After the final opening statements from Diltz, the first official speaker was welcomed to the stage.
“48.9% of students in Tennessee have benefitted from free or reduced lunches. I was one of these children,” shared John’Na Webster, coordinator of UTM Student Health and Counseling Services.
According to Webster, these problems do not end in high school. By her calculations, at least 2,800 students at UTM qualify as food insecure. Webster also referenced national studies conducted by the Food and Drug Administration, campus surveys, and a classic by John Spargo “The Bitter Cry of Children” multiple times during her speech to help explain the real effect of hunger on American youth.
To foster an understanding of the problem of food insecurity, Webster pulled up a large image of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The famous pyramid’s base is comprised of physiological needs, with food as one of the most essential. Webster encouraged the audience to imagine the University Center as a pyramid, and then asked what they thought would become of the rest of the building if the bottom floor was removed. Students, like the UC, she explained, did not have a chance of being successful without a solid base.
She mentioned that there were a few places to get food assistance in the Martin area, giving each proper credit for the work they do. However, Webster emphasized how important having a less stigmatized, more anonymous way to receive food would help a lot more of the population reach resources they needed.
Webster’s speech ended on a definitive note, with her stating,
“Hunger is simply not acceptable on the campus of UT Martin.”
Next to the stage was SGA Advisor, John Abel, who explained Skyhawks Share Meal Plan in more detail. The program will allow students with appropriate reasons to have a set number of meals at the cafeteria provided upon request. After submitting an application, which only asks for the student’s name, 96o number and a reason why they qualify, students can be selected to receive access to free meals. With a simple swipe and no extra fanfare, the student can then walk into the cafeteria and eat.
“No one will ever know they went through this program,” stated Abel.
An allotted amount of meal swipes will be given to qualifying students, and the use will be monitored by Abel and Sodexo, but the student’s personal information will be kept confidential. Abel explains that this is not a permanent meal plan replacement, but rather some assistance for those students struggling monetarily.
Meals can be donated by other students on select “Donation Days” and will be kept in the bank. On Donation Days, everyone entering the cafeteria with a meal plan will be asked if they would like to donate a swipe to the Skyhawk Share Meal Plan. If the person in question does not have a meal plan, or would not like to donate swipes, there will also be a table set up to accept any donations to the bank. Donation Days will be planned on a need basis, and swipes donated will expire from each student’s card on the end of the semester and returned to the meal bank.
Abel told those assembled that the idea for this program in UTM began with a student who approached him requesting assistance for a survey she was distributing about food insecurity. Abel helped her, and the girl returned later to tell him the results of her survey. To Abel’s surprise, of the 137 participants surveyed on the UTM campus, 31% identified as food insecure, and 50% had said they’d chosen to pay for a book over buying food. Despite having such a small pool to draw from, the data was staggering and inspired Abel to approach Sodexo.
The program is inspired by other schools with similar programs, like UT Knoxville, but Abel accredits Sodexo in making the meals cheaper to provide.
This past Thursday marked the first Donation Day, and Abel encouraged everyone to participate. On Thursday, any swipe into the cafeteria for those without a meal plan only cost $5, and they will be asked if they’d like to donate a further $5 amount to feed another student. For every $5 donated to the cause another swipe will be added into the meal bank for a qualified student’s future use. SGA will have a table set up during lunch, and will be accepting any additional donations for the meal bank.
“If we impact one student’s life, it was worth it,” closed SGA Vice President, Ryan Leatherbarrow.
For more information, to donate to the cause or to see if you qualify for the Skyhawks Share Meal Program, visit http://www.utm.edu/departments/sga/sharemeal.php.