Alexis Palmer was not surprised when she saw survey results that showed one in 10 Utah Valley University students had gone a full day without eating because they couldn’t afford food.
It’s something Palmer, the dean of students and associate vice president of student life at UVU, commonly hears from students.
“These are the struggles and the issues that they are going through,” she said.
Those numbers and stories are the reason why UVU launched the Coordinated Access to Resources and Education, or CARE, task force this spring as a way to tackle food insecurity, housing insecurity, health and safety among its student population.
The task force includes a pilot program for emergency scholarships to provide students with $50 to $500 to pay for food, rent or medical costs.
Of 382 students who answered a question about food insecurity on UVU’s 2018 fall student opinion survey, 38% said they sometimes and 25% said they often could not afford to eat balanced meals. Of the 257 students who answered that they’ve at times been unable to afford to eat balanced meals, 51% said they’d been hungry, but didn’t eat because there wasn’t enough money for food, and 7% said they’d prefer not to answer the question.
The majority of the students who answered they’d gone hungry said they hadn’t considered accessing the food pantry, were unaware UVU had one in the Center for Social Impact and didn’t know how to use it.
The survey also found 11.1% of the 642 students who answered a question about housing insecurity said they were probably or definitely at immediate risk of losing their housing due to unaffordable rent or safety concerns.
“One way to address housing insecurity is to remove other barriers, financial barriers, which is why food insecurity is so important,” Palmer said.
She said while the survey showed that less than 1% of students were staying somewhere that wasn’t meant to be housing, it still equates to about 180 students who don’t have somewhere to sleep.
The university has food vouchers to help students receive a hot meal on campus, is looking at food recovery models to use uneaten food on campus, has increased its advertising for the food pantry and launched http://uvu.edu/studentcare to show available resources. It also plans to address mental health resources in the future.
The emergency scholarships are being funded with $60,000 in donated funds. Palmer said that about a fourth of the funds budgeted for the fiscal year, which begins in the summer, have been awarded.
While the emergency scholarships are being managed through the Women’s Success Center, Palmer said students do not need to identify as female to apply. Students can apply by going in or calling the office. A committee reviews the applications and works to get the funding to students within 48 hours.
Palmer said students’ basic needs have to be met before they can perform well in classes.
“It is not because college students are lazy,” she said. “It is because they may not have had enough money to have a hot meal, or any meal in the last 24 hours, because they had to use that money to pay rent.”
To donate to the emergency scholarship fund, contact Palmer or the UVU Foundation and specify that donations should go the CARE initiative.
Palmer said she hopes more donors step forward so the university can continue to provide the scholarships.
“I hope our UVU community and our extended community really recognizes the basic needs, if those aren’t being met, everything else just isn’t going to happen,” she said. “We have to take care of those basic needs first.”