Addressing Food and Housing Security among NC State University Students
Since February 2018, when a report on student hunger and homelessness on NC State University's campus was released, the campus community has generated increased resources for students, conducted ongoing research on food and housing insecurity and led awareness-raising activities. This work by NC State to end student hunger and homelessness has been featured nationally, including being ranked #7 in the U.S. and #64 in the world for “Zero Hunger,” Global Sustainable Development Goal 2 (Times Higher Education 2021 Impact Rankings).
Our vision is that all NC State students will have access to sufficient, nutritious, culturally appropriate and affordable food and safe, stable, affordable housing accessible to the university. Working toward this vision is a large, diverse network of NC State and community partners dedicating their time and resources to address the multidimensional challenge of food and housing insecurity. The Pack Essentials Steering Committee is the leadership team undertaking a comprehensive, coordinated and continuous response using a combination of longer term, systems-level actions and individual programs to meet the urgent need of direct services for students.
At NC State, we seek to promote the success of the whole student and we believe in educational equity. These values become critical when considering the education of students who are economically disadvantaged and at risk for food and housing insecurity.
In recent decades, several factors have converged to increase the number of college students who struggle to meet their food and housing needs. There are more students from economically insecure homes enrolled than in past decades. This is a welcome trend for our land-grant university, which has a historical mission to ensure that higher education is available to those who meet admissions standards, regardless of socio economic status. In fact, a current NC State goal is to increase enrollment of students from Tier 1 and 2 counties in rural areas of NC and transfer students from eight community college partners (Community College Collaboration). This is a worthy goal, but requires acknowledgement that those two populations of students tend to enter college with fewer financial resources.
Students from financially secure families can struggle to meet their basic needs, too. According to estimates of the HOPE Center for College, Community and Justice, the cost of living for college students has increased by more than 80% in the past four decades. Increases in financial aid have not kept pace with rising tuition and escalating costs of living. A stagnant minimum wage and loss of affordable housing in many communities further contributes to the financial burden associated with higher education.
NC State is not immune to these trends. Despite the fact that NC State is one of the best values in higher education, many students struggle to pay educational and living expenses even if they receive financial aid, work multiple jobs, live in campus housing and have a meal plan. This is a concern because research shows that food and housing insecurity is associated with poor health, emotional distress, missed and dropped classes, delayed graduation and drop out.
Based on an NC State report published in Feb. 2021, 23% of students have been food insecure in a 30-day period and 15% of students had experienced homelessness during the pandemic. This is up from the 2018 report where 15% of students were food insecure and 9.6% experienced homelessness.
In response to the 2018 report, the Pack Essentials Steering Committee launched with a sense of urgency as a grassroots effort by volunteer faculty, students and staff in units across the university — in partnership with local community experts — to address student food and housing insecurity.
A broad vision statement was confirmed during two campus-wide community conversations on student food and housing security: All NC State students will have access to sufficient, nutritious, culturally appropriate, and affordable food & safe, stable, affordable housing accessible to the university.
Vision: All NC State students will have access to sufficient, nutritious, culturally appropriate, and affordable food & safe, stable, affordable housing accessible to the university.
There will be no barriers and no “wrong doors” for students who seek resources for food and housing. Students with unmet basic needs and those at risk for food insecurity or homelessness will be confident and at ease in seeking and receiving resources. Every person in the NC State community will be aware of the potential for unmet basic needs among our students and prepared to (a) have a meaningful, open conversation with students about food and housing and (b) make appropriate and timely referrals for needed resources.
There will be no gaps in resources and services available for students to become and remain secure in food and housing. A comprehensive and integrated system of care will be in place that maximizes existing campus and community resources. Gaps in current resources will be filled quickly and new resources will be integrated into the system of care. There will be a streamlined, transparent, rapid process for dissemination of resources to students. Prevention will be prioritized; when student food insecurity or homelessness do occur, support to alleviate the situation will be immediate so that episodes of hunger and homelessness are rare, brief and one-time experiences whenever possible.
University policies and procedures will support students’ ability to secure sufficient food and stable housing. Each university unit will continuously evaluate the impact of their operations on the financial status and food and housing security of students. Then, without delay, changes will be made to better support students’ basic needs.
A long-range fundraising and capacity building plan will be in place to ensure resources and a sufficient staff of basic needs Navigators will be available as the number of NC State students at risk for food and housing insecurity increases in coming years. There will be well defined and uncomplicated paths for individual, group and corporate donors to make financial contributions to assist students in meeting their food and housing needs.
NC State will be a national leader in resolution of student food and housing security. Faculty, staff and students across disciplines will partner with peer institutions, government agencies, industries and non-profit organizations to tackle the challenge of student food and housing insecurity.
Food and housing insecurity is a multidimensional challenge that will require a comprehensive, coordinated and continuous response. The following are a combination of longer term, systems-level actions combined with individual programs to meet the urgent need of direct services for students. This list is comprehensive but not exhaustive.
Decreasing Basic Needs Insecurity: The Steering Committee took direct action to reduce food, housing and financial insecurity among students.
- Supported the expansion of the Feed the Pack Food Pantry, established in 2012, and its move into a centrally-located, highly visible location.
- Established a Meal Share program allowing student-to-student meal sharing through donation of meals from student meal plans.
- Established a Meal Plan Scholarship program providing meal plans to students experiencing difficulty paying for the plan.
- Mobilize various departments to identify ways to support food security where students are, including “grazing stations,” Food for Finals, exam snack breaks, a coat exchange and a Syllabus Retreat.
- Developed More in My Basket to connect campus residents to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
- Developed a partnership with A Place at the Table, a local pay what you can café, to distribute meal tokens.
- Facilitated partnership with local restaurants and grocery stores to provide access to food. Examples include Player’s Retreat donating $25 gift cards, Panera Bread, Papa Murphy’s and Food Lion providing substantial weekly donations of food for students.
- Bring fresh food from the NC State Agroecology Education Farm and the student-run SOUL garden into the dining halls and the Food Pantry.
- Coordinate getting excess food to those who need it through the Food Recovery Network Student chapter.
- Wake County Food Nutrition Services connected county and community food sources to college students and other high-need student populations
- Additional programs can be found at: https://dasa.ncsu.edu/support-and-advocacy/pack-essentials/
- Open residence halls during university breaks.
- Provide temporary or emergency housing on a case-by-case basis. Evaluating how to increase the number of rooms available and access to case management.
- Secured two, 3-bedroom very low-cost apartments, with case management services, near campus through Family Promise of Wake County for NC State students with children.
- Created partnerships with local service agencies and shelters such as Interact Emergency Shelter and the Women’s Center of Wake County.
- Held a design studio class to explore building or acquiring innovative affordable and supportive student multi-unit housing with case management.
- Working with a local nonprofit, area colleges and local services providers to launch a Housing Options for Students Together (HOST) program aimed at matching college students experiencing housing insecurity with community members who will welcome the student into their home.
- Obtained internal grant to fund a working group tasked with identifying strategies to address housing insecurity; three solutions were generated and are in progress.
- Created a Student Emergency Fund to prevent one small emergency or unexpected expense from derailing a student’s progress towards a degree. A combination of fundraising and CARES Act funding supplies this fund.
- Based on the Student Emergency Fund, NC State launched the Employee Emergency Loan Program, providing employees with financial assistance to borrow money for short-term emergency situations.
Basic Needs Tools
- Established the Pack Essentials website as an electronic central hub of resources for basic needs, donor contributions, student survey results and materials developed by the Initiative.
- Developed a common Pack Essentials application with rapid response, often within 24 hours, from Ombuds/Financial Aid to help students receive support.
- Developed the Pack Essentials Ally Knowledge (PEAK) program, a student-developed training to help faculty, staff and students gain a better understanding of food insecurity, housing insecurity, basic needs and under-resourced students.
- Developed and distributed a basic needs curriculum and syllabus recommendations to faculty.
- Provided leadership for academic departments addressing student basic needs within syllabi, policies, course structure and services/resources made available.
- Developing and seeking funding for a “Basic Needs Navigator” as a single point of contact for students at risk of food and/or housing insecurity, to identify resources and services to prevent food and housing insecurity. Collaborated with student government and graduate student association to fund half-time graduate assistantship to serve this role for three years.
- Contributed to development of activities to fundraise/endow Pack Essentials funds for students such as the Student Emergency Fund and Pack Meal Scholarships.
- Established long term technology rentals, internet access and free textbooks with NC State Libraries.
Conducting Research: Collection, interpretation and sharing of data has been a central task.
- Collected student survey data in 2017 and again in 2020 capturing the experiences of students who have been food and/or housing insecure. These findings have guided NC State’s efforts and have been shared widely with other higher education institutions. Also collected qualitative data through individual interviews with students who had experienced food insecurity and/or homelessness while a student at NC State.
- Conducted asset mapping to identify campus and community assets and gaps to prevent student food insecurity and homelessness.
- Reached out to individuals identified as single points of contact for homeless students at all NC public institutions of higher education and all community colleges to understand their roles and to determine whether there were similar efforts at other campuses.
Increasing Awareness: Committee members have engaged in activities to increase awareness about student food and housing insecurity on campus and in the local community.
- Sponsored a Community Conversation in fall 2018 and a Visioning Session in spring 2019.
- Assisted in planning and production of the, “You Don’t Have to Choose” campaign to break the stigma of accessing available resources and to educate the campus regarding the needs of students with unmet basic needs.
- Attended numerous meetings to share information about the extent of food and housing insecurity among our students and to discuss potential solutions.
- Supervised the production of student podcasts describing student personal experiences with food and/or housing insecurity and financial stress.
- Created and displayed a visualization of student food and housing insecurity developed by generative artist, Lucas Swick, which gained national attention.
- Participated in “Hunger in the Land of Plenty” campus event by serving as commentators on films related to food systems.
- Served as an information resource on student food and housing insecurity for many offices and individuals across campus.
- Supported student involvement in an awareness effort to see the stories of those experiencing homelessness through photography. A student’s photograph was selected for inclusion in the installation at the Contemporary Art Museum.
- Interviewed by EAB about best practices in supporting students experiencing food, housing and financial insecurity and the Pack Essentials initiative.
- Supported a film project by Diane Nilan, a national advocate for homeless youth and families https://www.hearus.us/. The brief documentary will be used to increase awareness and encourage donations to the emergency fund and meal scholarships.
- Participated in and led numerous events related to the 2018 Common Reading (for all incoming new NC State students), $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America
- Attracted media attention with over 30 articles and interviews.
- Supported student presentations at multiple regional and national conferences such six students presented their recommendations at the national Closing the Hunger Gap.
- Assisting in NC State fundraising efforts that led to a $5 million donation in 2020 for financial need scholarships.
Below are major milestones for the Pack Essentials work. In conjunction with these efforts is a large volume of awareness building with events, activities, presentations and partnerships that are captured in other parts of this case study.
- 2012 Feed the Pack Food Pantry is established
- 2017 Formed the Pack Essentials Steering Committee as a grassroots effort to address urgent student basic needs
- 2018 First report on NC State student hunger and homelessness released
- 2018 Large community conversation to engage campus around food and housing insecurity
- 2018 Centralized all housing, food and financial security resources in one place, https://dasa.ncsu.edu/support-and-advocacy/pack-essentials/
- 2018 Performed asset mapping of campus to understand existing resources and gaps
- 2018 Expansion of Student Ombuds role to oversee and distribute student emergency funds
- 2019 Large visioning session on addressing food and housing security
- 2019 Created Addressing Food Housing Security Among NC State: A Call to Action to document the vision and path forward for student housing and food security at NC State
- 2019 Launched the Student Emergency Fund
- 2019 Created a Meal Share program and Meal Plan Scholarship
- 2019 Hosted a design studio to explore innovative campus affordable housing models
- 2020 Raised $1.2 million for the Student Emergency Fund for additional support during COVID-19
- 2020 Planning and fundraising for the HOST Home program to place housing insecure students into community member homes
- 2020 Residence Halls open to emergency housing and during breaks
- 2021 Second report on student hunger and homelessness released
- 2021 Launched the Employee Emergency Loan Program based on the success of the Student Emergency Fund.
Along with the direct costs, many NC State departments and community partners made in-kind contributions of personnel time, materials and meeting space. Below are examples of the financial and in-kind resources it takes to launch a grassroots effort such as this. This is not a comprehensive list.
- Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity: Diversity Mini-Grant for Community Conversations and student survey data collection
- Division of Academic and Student Affairs for production of brief documentary
- Department of Psychology for student interview data collection and student travel funds to present research findings.
- NC State Foundation for prevention of student homelessness planning and Host Home program launch
- College of Humanities & Social Sciences for asset mapping process
- Provost’s Professional Experience Program for undergraduate research assistants
- University Dining for Community Conversations meal
- Office of Undergraduate Research for student research grants
- Carolinas College Hunger Summit Mini grant (multiple sponsors) for Pack Essentials Advocate Program
- Professor Tom Barrie led a design studio exploring what it might look like to provide housing on or near campus
- The Division of Academic and Student Affairs provides staffing, communications and fundraising support and funding resources for many efforts. Examples include serving as advisors, funding the Student Ombuds position, development of the Pack Essentials online portal of student basic needs resources and communications for the “You Don’t Have to Choose” campaign to break the stigma of accessing available resources.
- Community partnerships provide access to food. A Place at the Table, a local pay what you can café provides meal tokens; Player’s Retreat, a local restaurant, donates $25 gift cards; and Panera Bread, Papa Murphy’s and Food Lion provide substantial weekly donations of food to the Feed the Pack Food Pantry.
- Members of the Housing and Food Security Steering Committee and its subcommittees donate their time and expertise to all facets of these initiatives.
Below are several metrics tracked for major programs. One of the biggest successes is the wide network of advocates and changemakers that collaborate to prevent hunger and housing insecurity, as well as to address urgent needs.
Feed the Pack Food Pantry (2012 - first quarter 2021)
- 253,271 pounds of food donated
- 267,818 pounds of food given
- 3,191 donations
- 20,461 visits (63% students, 34% staff/faculty, 3% unknown)
Pack Essentials (2018 - spring 2021)
- 4,743 Pack Essentials applications to receive support
- 2,948 Emergency Fund allocations totaling $1,324,216
- 56 meal scholarships totaling $60,739
- 6,584 meals shared with students through the Meal Share Program
- 207 Players’ Retreat restaurant gift cards distributed totaling $7,900
- $2,542,277 Pack Essentials fundraising (includes Student Emergency Fund, Meal Plan and Housing Scholarships). $138,000 of the $2.5 million is in endowment funds.
- 571 people in University Housing over winter break (December 2020)
- More than 30 media articles
- Over 50 awareness activities (outreach, presentations, community conversations) with local and national audiences
- Numerous awards and recognitions for the Pack Essentials programs, research and leadership
Identifying students with unmet basic needs If students experiencing food and housing insecurity are not identified, they may lose out on potential support that would allow them to remain enrolled, be successful in classes, and graduate. A campus-wide approach to identify students is critical to preventing emergency situations that lead to decreased health and well-being, poor academic performance and drop out. Identifying students who are food insecure or homeless is challenging. Students might be unaware of the definition of homelessness or food insecurity and not realize they are eligible for services. Students might feel ashamed, embarrassed or afraid of the consequences of disclosing their situation. NC State works to identify students who are at-risk of hunger and/or homelessness through financial aid status, membership with TRiO programs and international student status.
Reaching/serving students with unmet food and housing needs After students with clear or potential needs are identified, they must receive support and appropriate services to prevent hunger and homelessness or to mitigate the impact of food and housing insecurity. Some students don’t use resources due to stigma associated with help seeking or because they are unaware of available services and/or barriers to resources are too complex to navigate. They might feel that they just need to continue to “push through” rather than use available resources. Some might believe that other students have greater challenges and that resources should be reserved for those who are “worse off”.
Food and housing insecurity is a multidimensional challenge Addressing this challenge requires a comprehensive, coordinated and continuous response of longer term, “upstream” systems-level actions combined with individual “downstream” programs to meet the urgent need of direct services for students.
Collaboration To successfully further an effort such as student food and housing security it takes true collaboration across campus and within the community to connect existing resources and fill the gaps of needed resources. Below are organizations participating in this work.
NC State participants: Campus Enterprises, Career Center and Student Services -Poole College of Management & College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, College of Design, College of Education, College of Engineering, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Natural Resources, College of Sciences, Cooperative Extension, Counseling Center, Department of Psychology, Department of Youth, Family and Community Sciences, Development Offices - University, DASA & CHASS, Division of Academic and Student Affairs, Enrollment Management, Facilities Division, Feed the Pack Food Pantry, GLBT Center, Global Village, Greek Life, Inter Residence Council, Leadership & Civic Engagement, Legal Office, Libraries, New Student Programs, Nutrition, More in My Basket, Office of Finance and Administration, Office of Institutional Research and Planning, Poole College of Management, Provost’s Professional Experience Program, Shelton Leadership, Social Innovation Fellows, School of Social Work, Student Athlete Advisory Council, Student Basic Needs Coalition, Student Health Services, Student Ombuds Office, Sustainability Office, TRiO Programs, University Communications, University Dining, University Housing, Urban Affairs and Community Services, Wellness & Recreation, Wilson College of Textiles, Women's Center
Community participants: A Place at the Table, Advance Community Health, BWEL Foundation, Capital Area Food Network, Celonis, Collaborative Health Solutions, Community Food Lab, Deaton Investment Real Estate, Family Promise, Inc., Fidelity Investments, First Christian Church, Food Lion, Green Chair Project, Haven House Services, HEAR Us, Inc., MomsRising, MyFutureNC, Oak City Cares, Panera Bread, Paragon Bank, Player's Retreat, Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Red Hat, Raleigh/Wake Partnership to End and Prevent Homelessness, RTI International, SchoolHouse Connection, Point Source Youth, Swipe Out Hunger, Wake County Department of Health and Human Services, Wake County Extension, Wake County Food and Nutrition Services, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, 1 in 6 Snacks