Kaizad Irani ‘22
At the end of January, The Charlotte Observer published an article highlighting food insecurity in Mecklenburg County. The piece explored food insecurity — the lack of a consistent means of access to healthy and plentiful food — in Mecklenburg County and how local officials are incentivizing grocery stores to move to “food deserts” in the Charlotte area. While these issues may seem far away from Davidson’s campus, the college is not immune to these problems.
According to 2018 data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 15% of households in Mecklenburg County experience food insecurity or reduced eating patterns. This number surpasses North Carolina’s average of 13.9% and the national average of 11.1%.
Food insecurity is also a significant problem across college campuses, according to the 2019 #RealCollege survey, one of the nation’s largest surveys focusing on the quality of services among college students, which is conducted by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice. Their data show 45% of the nearly 86,000 students surveyed reported being food insecure in the past month. Additionally, 68% of the students who expressed being food insecure reported being employed while enrolled in college, and one fifth of food insecure students received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food stamps.
Some Davidson students have seen the effects of local food insecurity first-hand. Ben Leach ‘22 started a new student organization last semester called Housing Disparities in Charlotte (HDIC). The club focuses on volunteering at the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte, an emergency shelter that provides income and housing support for those experiencing homelessness in Charlotte, and overseeing Davidson’s Room in the Inn program. Room in the Inn, operated through the Urban Ministry Center, provides shelter and food for homeless people during the winter months and allows students to develop personal relationships with those residents.
When speaking about volunteering at the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte and serving meals, Leach expressed the concerns he had with the quality of food that local grocery stores donated to the shelter grocery stores.
“When we would go in and start preparing the meals, we would be picking through moldy grapes or shifting through bananas that were clearly not those that would be sold in Davis Café, for example,” shared Leach. “We don’t serve any of the produce that has gone bad or expired, and as a result, there are often not a lot of healthy options.”
Food insecurity is also present among students on campus. Last fall, Lizzie Kane ‘22 published a perspectives piece for The Davidsonian providing an in-depth look at food insecurity on campus. Kane, along with Linda LeFauve, Associate Vice President for Planning and Institutional Research, conducted a food insecurity survey which found that out of 311 student respondents, roughly 20% expressed that their meal plan had fewer meals than they generally needed. Additionally, almost half of the respondents did not know about Lula Bell’s meal swipe donation program.
Alongside the food pantry located in Lula Bell’s, where students can pick up groceries once every week with a complimentary meal swipe, the resource center offers a meal swipe donation program at the end of each semester, which is capped at 200 swipes. Students can request up to 10 additional meal swipes to be added to their plan. Kane’s survey showed a common theme — students were unaware of Lula Bells’ programs. She suggested some reforms to improve the quality of the service, such as adding information about the meal swipe donation program on Lula Bell’s website, allowing the extra swipe to be used at the Union because of more flexible hours, and adding the ability to donate dining dollars.
Michelle Manceaux ‘20 and Ashley Ip ‘22 are currently working on tackling the issue of food insecurity at Davidson. They are advocating for Davidson College to partner with Swipe Out Hunger, a nonprofit focusing on ending college food insecurity. Manceaux and Ip believe that Swipe Out Hunger can help improve the meal-swipe donation program by supporting the administration in reforming the program and ensuring that it does not negatively affect dining services.
“Along with working with Swipe Out Hunger, we want to give a voice to the group of students experiencing food insecurity at this school,” said Manceaux. “We want to de-stigmatize how food insecurity looks on campus and hear from students about their experiences.”
Both are also working on ways to publicize the services offered by Lula Bell’s. Along with wanting Lula Bell’s to include a section about the meal-swipe donation program on their website, Manceaux and Ip are trying to change the Davidson Intrsect app to include Lula Bell’s as a food option.
In her first year working as the Civic Engagement Fellow for Lula Bell’s, Daisy Gonzalez expressed a positive outlook on Lula Bell’s role in alleviating food insecurity at Davidson.
“In my short time here, I have heard a lot of positive things about the services we offer. A lot of students mentioned that we offer convenient services, which are a great way to supplement their meal plans,” said Gonzalez.
Gonzalez also shared the improvements they made last semester to help promote the meal swipe donation program. Last semester, Lula Bell’s advertised the program before reading day and asked SGA to send an email to all students informing them of the donation process. According to Gonzalez, Lula Bell’s reached their limit for accepting meal swipes and gave out all of their meal swipes last semester.
Manceaux and Ip added that they are looking for more ways to connect with students to better address this issue at Davidson and offer more tangible solutions.
“We are working to figure out the best way to target people to promote our case and receive help from students and faculty,” expressed Ip.
“Because of the relatively high median income of students at Davidson, we recognize there are problems that affect a percentage of students that will never get properly heard,” added Manceaux. “We want to help give a voice to them and make sure students don’t go hungry during their four years.”