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5 Things To Know About The Campus Pantry and College Hunger Landscape

We recently hosted more than 100 of our campus partners and community members on a webinar where we dove deep into the empirical evidence gleaned from our recent campus leader and pantry surveys. The survey is the most representative study of college food pantries to date. 

As the leading nonprofit ending hunger across college campuses, we support basic needs leaders on the over 435 campuses across 50 states that make up our network. Check out what we’re learning:

1. Campus pantries play a central and vital role in campus life.
Not only did our surveys represent 352 campuses across our network including one from every state, but we learned that almost half (45%) of campus pantries launched in just the last five years. This demonstrates that student hunger is very real, and campuses are starting to recognize- and act on– their moral responsibility to center and support their students. Tragically, we learned it’s not just students affected by food insecurity: of the more than 153,000 people served through our network’s campus pantries, a section of that includes faculty, administrators, and other campus members who accessed the pantry. 

We learned that in addition to immediate access to meals, 3 out of 4 of our campus pantries (75%) refer students to other resources (75% are referred to on campus resources; 74% are referred to off-campus resources). This illustrates how one visit to a food pantry can help a student access a holistic offering of services that they would otherwise not be aware existed or they were eligible for. 

2. Purchasing opportunities could help campus pantries reduce their budgets
Our campus pantry survey recently revealed that only 59% receive products from food banks. It also showed that more than half of campus pantries (53%) pay full price for food and supplies– a costly expense that accumulates quickly. By establishing relationships with food banks, pantries wouldn’t be forced to pay full price for products. Alternatively, pantries can work with their campus’ food service company to leverage their purchasing power and request they order key pantry items. Finally, pantries can create a “requested items” list on their website indicating exactly the products students most need. You can see one example from UCLA here

Additionally, campus pantries in the Swipe Out Hunger network can apply for a $3,000 microgrant every Spring and Fall session. Learn about our microgrant fund here and check out our most recent recipients here.  

3. It’s becoming normalized to have refrigeration and non-food items in campus pantries. 
Campus pantries are stepping up how and what they stock, with 71% of our network reporting that they have fridges– and 24% reporting they have plans to add refrigeration. This makes all the difference in students’ nutrition if they are able to access fresh and nutritious food– rather than being limited to nonperishable snacks and meals. While nonperishables still provide value especially for students with limited time, many students express a desire for the option of fresh produce.  

No longer just closets packed with ramen noodle cups, we’re excited to have campuses tell us they’re providing a wide range of both food and non-food items from menstrual products to school supplies. This demonstrates how students have basic needs beyond food that still need to be addressed so they can both survive and thrive while in college. 


4. There’s no one size fits all when it comes to campus food security programs. 
We applaud any and all efforts to address student hunger and it’s inspiring to see so many of our campuses have multiple programs for students to access. While more than 3 out of 4 campuses (76%) in our network have a campus food pantry, more than 1 in 3 (36%) have Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) outreach and enrollment support, which help students access the nation’s foremost defense against hunger. 

In addition, more than 1 in 3 campuses (36%) also have a Swipe Drive meal donation program, which allows students to donate meals to their peers on campus facing food insecurity. Once our primary program, the Swipe Drive is but one of many of Swipe Out Hunger’s offerings. Learn more about ways we partner with college campuses to end hunger here

5. Students want—and need— campus pantries and other resources. 
Our campuses have been providing a very real need to their students and it is astounding! In the Fall 2021 survey, our campus leaders told us they: 
– Distributed more than 1,016,441 meals/lbs of food to more than 152,396 people
– Referred more than 6,449 students to SNAP
– Donated more than 139,830 swipes/dollars/points
– Distributed 184,037 swipes, dollars, points, to 19,500 students 

Behind each of these numbers is a story about a student who– even if just for one moment– was granted some relief from the burden of figuring out what their next meal is coming from– and that’s a beautiful thing. Students shared in our recent survey that:

“Happiest I am all week is when I can go to the cupboard and get food for the week. Not having to buy groceries right now is a freaking lifesaver. I appreciate you [this program].”

“I don’t know how I could stay in school [without] this support.”  

“I feel like [my school] really cares about me.” 

This impact is only made possible by the dedicated students, staff, and community members who create and sustain groundbreaking programs that are meeting the needs of today’s students. We’re proud to support these pioneering campuses across our network and look forward to uplifting their success as long as it takes to ensure no student has to choose between food and their education. 

Watch the entire Swipe Session below for more data and sign up for our next one here.  

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