By Malcolm Kenyatta
Many people rightly look at college as a place for career education and self-discovery. The cost of this experience regularly comes with a significant amount of student debt. And for nearly one-third of students seeking their degrees, a harsh price is being paid before they even make it to that point — hunger and food insecurity.
It’s more widespread than people think. I recently held a public policy hearing to examine the issue and help people learn more about legislation (HB2205) I introduced with Rep. Jennifer O’Mara, D-Delaware, that would combat food insecurities among college and university students across Pennsylvania.
It’s largely a silent struggle our students are enduring, and why many who experience it drop out of school.
At my policy hearing we learned from officials at Temple and West Chester universities and Manor College about the hunger problems on their campuses and how they identify students and try to connect them with resources. However, the existing food pantries for these students are insufficient to address the need.
We also heard from officials from the Department of Human Services, who talked about the number of students seeking help, but who do not meet the requirements for receiving help.
All who testified agreed that there is a growing number of students who have no parental support, who are earning their degrees as single parents and who otherwise cannot afford food while trying to earn their degrees. We are in crisis.
This legislation would create a grant program to help colleges and universities eliminate hunger on their campuses, including providing a food pantry and establishing a hunger task force.
Meanwhile, we also are working to have the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee deliver a report on food insecurity at colleges and universities, so we have the information we need to develop additional long-term solutions.
As human beings, we all can understand how difficult it is deal with hunger-induced headaches and hunger pangs while also trying to focus on work or studies or raising a family. I, too, was a hungry college student.
This week is National School Breakfast Week, a celebration of the U.S. government’s commitment to provide nearly 13 million lower income children a healthy breakfast at school so they can focus on their education.
A celebration such as this gives me hope that we can come together and offer a solution for those who are nearly ready to enter the workforce and contribute their talents to our society and economy.
In the richest country in the world, too many people are denied the basic securities they need to survive. That must stop. As public servants, it’s our duty to ensure that all residents in our commonwealth have access to healthy foods.
State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, a Democrat, represents the Philadelphia-based 181st House District. He writes from Harrisburg.
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