The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

JOURNAL: At What Cost

Photo by Forster Goodrich
Once a month Leigh said Elmbrook collects food from the congregation and distributes it to six different organizations in Milwaukee and Waukesha.

Milwaukee County has the second highest rate of food insecurity in Wisconsin with 15.4% of individuals being affected.

Over 110,000 Milwaukee County residents reported experiencing food insecurity in 2020. The statewide rate for food insecurity is 10% while the national average is 12.5%. On campus, one in five Marquette students responded “yes” to having experience food insecurity during the past school year.

A survey done by Feeding America found that out of the 150 food banks that responded, 129 were working to focus on food insecurity for college students. 

110 of them distributed food directly to college students, which Feeding America found was the most common method towards approaching college students facing food insecurity. The second was by connecting students to governmental food assistance programs. Feeding America has a program in Wisconsin called ‘Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin‘ that works through distributing food to food pantries and donation efforts. 

To mitigate food insecurity and facilitate these changes, there are programs set up throughout Milwaukee aiming to help individuals, even some at Marquette University that hope to help students as well as community members.

On campus, Marquette is home to organizations including the Backpack Program, Neighborhood Kitchen, Food Recovery Network and recently partnered with Fork Farms to bring fresh produce to campus and the community. There are other programs on campus such as Swipe Out Hunger that give meal swipes to students as well.

Christine Little, manager of campus food recovery and assistance, said the Marquette Backpack Program’s food pantry extends past campus and into the community. The pantry provides fresh fruit, vegetables, some frozen meat, bread, non-perishable items, some personal products and cleaning items.

“Marquette students can shop once a week for what they need and community members can come in and get food once a month,” Little said. “We’re a part of Marquette, but we are almost completely funded through donations.”

Having programs like the Backpack Program, Little said is “really important” especially as society has seen a shift from the “traditional” college student coming from a middle class family whose parents are able to support school related expenses.

“That model has shifted, but at the same time, financial aid hasn’t gone up adequately,” Little said.

Little said that there’s a presumption in society that if someone is in college, they can afford to be there. She said although there are student loans and financial aid options available, there’s a lot of biases around who actually is “food insecure” and who “deserves” food.

“A lot of that is very rooted in the welfare queen trope that was popularized in the 80s,” Little said. “So I think advocating for a greater understanding and empathy towards college students’ experiences today because we know that food is foundational to life — it’s a basic human right. We can’t exist without it.”

The welfare queen trope is a “powerful myth that portrays recipients of government aid as poor, unmarried Black mothers who live lavishly on undeserved financial assistance — (that) has long hindered adequate state funding for the poor.”

Oftentimes, Little said college students aren’t eligible to receive SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which in Wisconsin is referred to as FoodShare.

Little encourages college students to look into whether or not they would qualify for FoodShare, or SNAP, in Wisconsin.

“Because we know that the number of college students who are eligible for SNAP is not equal to the amount of college students who are receiving SNAP. There’s a lot of confusion about that,” Little said. “But even that program isn’t adequate to meet the needs of students– especially at Marquette which is predominantly white and very privileged.”

Little said it can especially be difficult for students who growing up may have been on free or reduced lunch programs when they come to Marquette, because the university doesn’t offer anything like free or reduced lunch plans. When there is that transition, Little said, all of a sudden, that support isn’t there anymore.

Because of that, Little said programs like the Backpack Program help to provide students with a bit of support and access to fresh foods especially if they don’t qualify for government food assistance programs but are in need of those services and that support.

Jacob Leigh, director of James Place a community resource of Elmbrook Church — said when it comes to governmental food assistance programs, they can also be “cumbersome” and “difficult to manage.”

“There’s a lot of food stuff within the governmental programs where the food they make you purchase is actually food that’s not good for your health,” Leigh said. “That’s the thing that really frustrates me is that you’re forced to buy things that aren’t good for you which seems so backwards.”

Leigh said, for example, the program WIC — special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children — has recipients buy fat free yogurt.

“Fat is actually a very important thing for kids. You don’t want them to have excessive sugars, but you can buy as much sugared up yogurt as you want as long as it doesn’t have fat in it,” Leigh said. “It’s a very backwards look on development.”

For instance, Leigh said if you have a small child, they should be given whole or 2% milk typically for their first few years of life but WIC only lets recipients purchase skim or 1% milk.

“It’s one thing that I’ve found very annoying and I’m like, ‘why are you doing this?’ Because that’s more on a track of heavy sugar and carb intake can lead to diabetes progressing where it’s like, ‘why wouldn’t you want them (children) having a heavy protein, heavy fat diet especially as small children?'” Leigh said.

However, Leigh said these programs do provide food for people and it “genuinely helps people” that are struggling.

Today, there are other options aside from only being on governmental food assistance programs. There are food pantries and organizations in place aiming to help mitigate the food insecurity issue.

In terms of Milwaukee, Little said there are “pockets” around Marquette’s campus of food pantries and other assistance organizations.

One of those organizations is Elmbrook Church which Leigh helps manage. Once a month Leigh said the church collects food from the congregation and distributes it to six different organizations in Milwaukee and Waukesha.

“I point people to the pantries and stuff that does exist because most of the time when I get messages from friends of people who know me who are food insecure they’re wanting me to order them a meal,” Leigh said. “And sometimes I do that, but most of the times I’m like, ‘Hey, there are some good organizations that you can get hooked up with who can give you stable food.'”

Leigh said there is a level where people have to show up to actually get it and to be sustained by these programs.

In Leigh’s six years working at Elmbrook, he said he’s seen food insecurity in the city go up and down but the big thing is that he hasn’t really seen widespread change.

Little said she noticed a lot of change during the pandemic, especially in terms of food becoming more expensive.

“During COVID-19, it’s been really interesting, because during COVID-19 there were expanded food share benefits and charitable food available through Feeding America that we didn’t have to pay for or it was very low cost and there was a very wide variety,” Little said. “Both of those benefits ended … and we’ve seen a much larger uptick in people looking for food.”

Little said especially community members who had those expanded benefits taken away “post-pandemic” are finding a greater difficulty finding food now as there’s a much smaller variety through these government programs as well as food pantries.

“It’s a little bit more expensive and there’s just less available,” Little said.

Little said there are also more food pantries out there today that are utilizing the same food supply.

“We’re all competing for these resources which is not how it should be. We know that there’s plenty of food it’s just a matter of if there’s the right distribution available for it,” Little said.

For the Backpack Program, Little said they’ve averaged around 100 individual visits to the pantry a month. Since January, the pantry has had around 570 visits total compared to previously when they used to see around 50 people a month.

For students who are struggling with food insecurity, Little said that experience affects different aspects of their life including grades in school and their work life.

“Not having access to healthy and nutritious food is gonna impact how well they do in school and their jobs, because they’re having to prioritize between bills and food, their mental health and food and things like that,” Little said.

Because of that, Little said she’s seen the Backpack Program benefit students.

“Because when we’re hungry, we can’t focus and and that’s really stressful,” Little said.

The Backpack Program is located in Mashuda Hall. Students can register to shop at the pantry in-person. Hours are posted online, but Little said they change each week depending on what times people can work the pantry. Hours are updated on a weekly-basis online. There are no requirements to participate in the program.

The program is set up to be a shopping style experience, Little said, so although the program does provide bags, they also ask that students try to bring a reusable bag to go in and pick out what they want.

Also in Mashuda is Marquette’s Neighborhood Kitchen which Little supervises as well. Little said the kitchen operates as a commercial kitchen space and works alongside the Food Recovery Network — a student group that recovers surpluses of food from campus trying to reduce food waste.

“We create meals for different community partners,” Little said. “Right now we have Cambridge Senior Departments, Benedict Center, Casa Maria Catholic Worker House and then we divert some of that as well up to the Backpack Program as well too when get in sandwiches, yogurts and bagels and things like that.”

A newer program established a few years ago is Marquette’s Swipe Out Hunger program. The program is based on financial need and the application opens at the beginning of the semester and reopens the following year. It provides 20 free meal swipes to students to use at campus dining halls.

“So it’s not a rolling application basis,” Little said. “There is a cap on how many we can give to students.”

This year, Little said there were close to 200 students who got meal swipes but received approximately 400 student applications.

“It’s a program we’re looking to expand because it’s very popular, it’s quick, it’s easy, it doesn’t have the stigma attached to it that a food pantry does,” Little said.

The most recent initiative Marquette has established to combat food insecurity, though, is their partnership with Fork Farms that University President Michael Lovell announced during his presidential address Jan. 31.

Fork Farms is a hydroponics manufacturer based in Ashwaubenon. The hydroponics technology allows produce to grow using a nutrient-based water solution. The plants are “infused”with the solution which goes into the root chambers and flows back down. Plants don’t even require soil through the hydroponics device.

There’s one machine in the STEM building on campus as well as another in Mashuda Hall that the Backpack Program is utilizing to grow fresh produce.

“We have lettuce growing in there right now. I started some basil seeds, so we’re just playing around. I’ve been told that the unit can produce up to 25 pounds of depending on what you’re growing,” Little said.

Little said she knows that some people have grown tomatoes in the machines as well. She said having this kind of machine will allow the Backpack Program to to provide fresher produce since all of their products they are receiving are donated, so finding fresh produce is oftentimes difficult for them since it goes bad within a certain window.

“So I think that it’ll help support that and just provide us another option to make sure there’s always fresh produce that is, like literally fresh, you pull it out and the root stays attached and it lasts for, like a couple of weeks,” Little said.

Little said it’s important to advocate for more funding through the state and federal level to help provide something equivalent to the free or reduced school lunch program for universities across the U.S.

“If students when they got to college were able to access a meal plan that is covered in financial aid somehow, I think that would be really awesome,” Little said.

This story was written by Julia Abuzzahab. She can be reached at [email protected]

Story continues below advertisement
Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributors
Julia Abuzzahab
Julia Abuzzahab, Executive Projects Editor
Julia Abuzzahab is a senior from Wausau, Wisconsin studying journalism and film and media studies and is the Executive Projects Editor of the Marquette Wire for the 2023-2024 school year. Prior to this position, she served as the Executive News Editor for the organization. Outside of the Wire, she enjoys playing piano and seeing her friends. She is most excited to see all of the work her and her team accomplish this year and spending time with her friends in the newsroom.  
Forster Goodrich
Forster Goodrich, Staff Photographer
Forster Goodrich is a sophomore from Lyme, New Hampshire studying digital media. Forster works on the photography desk as a Staff Photographer. Outside of the Wire, he is on the club waterski team, and enjoys everything outdoors. He is looking forward to the upcoming basketball season and getting to photograph games at Fiserv Forum.

Comments (0)

All Marquette Wire Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *