Commentary: College students are disproportionately experiencing hunger


San Diego is deservedly known as America’s Finest City, rich with cultural and natural beauty, exceptional colleges and universities, and a thriving innovation-focused economy. But in the shadows of our prosperity, too many of our neighbors are struggling just to make ends meet. Here in San Diego, one in eight people, including one in six children, face hunger on a regular basis. They include students of every age, seniors living on fixed incomes, families struggling with the high cost of housing, people with disabilities, low-paid and laid-off workers, and even active-duty military families who are stationed here but not paid enough to live here.

Sadly some of the highest rates of hunger are found in our local colleges and universities. A recent study by the Hope Center found that 50% of community college students experienced hunger in the past month and nearly 20% experienced homelessness in the past year. Students are struggling with rising costs of tuition and books, as well as basic necessities like housing, transportation, health care and food.

Community college students are hit hardest by economic challenges, as many of them work, raise children and support aging parents while simultaneously pursuing their education. Living expenses quickly outpace the income students can earn at their low-wage or part-time jobs. Their lack of access to healthy food reduces energy, destroys focus, and degrades emotional and physical health.
We cannot allow our students — tomorrow’s leaders — to face such obstacles in pursuit of their dreams. To address this urgent need, Feeding San Diego’s College Partnerships Program provides many campuses with an assortment of nutritious food, including healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables, for free monthly farmers market-style distributions. The program helps students and their families optimize their limited grocery budgets and access assistance on campus, in a respectful and familiar environment. Providing high-quality food directly on campus allows students to concentrate on the most important issues: studying, learning, and preparing to enter the workforce.

Feeding San Diego has partnered with UCSD, SDSU, CSU San Marcos, and nearly every community college campus in the county. A hallmark of these partnerships has been the innovative use of rescued food from local grocery stores. This healthy and nutritious food, which would otherwise go to waste, is rescued daily and distributed to students facing hunger. Across the county, innovative education leaders are working to address student hunger with free, rescued food. Miramar College uses a text messaging system to alert students to the arrival of rescued food. The Educational Cultural Complex at San Diego Continuing Education recently received a grant to purchase cold storage to extend the life of rescued food. SDSU’s School of Theatre, Television, and Film recently launched its own food rescue and distribution program to keep students nourished and engaged during a demanding course of study which leaves little time for outside employment.

Our college and university students are working to achieve their dreams, unlocking the door to good-paying jobs through a college education. Their success is ultimately our success, fueling San Diego’s economic vitality and expanding opportunity. Even for well-nourished students, earning a college degree is a rigorous challenge. Let’s all work to ensure that our students are fueled for success and that hunger never stands between an aspiring student and academic achievement.

Hall is CEO of Feeding San Diego. Website:


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