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Statewide coalition to end student hunger in Alabama awarded $500,000 grant

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Close-up, wrapped loaves of bread and bagels in Blazer Kitchen with jars of peanut butter in background, 2018.
By Shannon Thomason
UAB News

Ten Alabama universities including the University of Alabama at Birmingham, working to ensure all students have access to affordable, nourishing food, have been awarded a $500,000 grant.

The grant was given to the Auburn University Hunger Solutions Institute by the nonprofit ECMC Foundation. It was awarded in support of the 10-university initiative, called the Alabama Campus Coalition for Basic Needs. The coalition’s mission is to empower students to succeed in higher education by ensuring their basic nutritional needs are met.

Each university will form or has formed its own campus coalition during the 2019-2020 academic year. Through each coalition, the universities will assess the scope of food insecurity and available resources on each campus. This information will help the universities develop a campus action plan, to be implemented starting next summer. Researchers will evaluate each university’s work based on changes in food insecurity prevalence, campus resources and student outcomes. Finally, the initiative will share information from the data on best practices, which can be scaled to universities and colleges across the nation to use in the pursuit of zero hunger campuses.

The Hunger Solutions Institute’s first statewide initiative, End Child Hunger in Alabama, established the Alabama Campus Coalition for Basic Needs earlier this year. Members of the coalition with UAB include Alabama A&M University, Alabama State University, Auburn University, Jacksonville State University, Troy University, Tuskegee University, University of Alabama, University of North Alabama, and the University of South Alabama. The Alabama Campus Coalition for Basic Needs unifies these institutions to implement a far-reaching, systematic framework to end campus food insecurity.

UAB is excited to work collaboratively with the nine other Alabama universities to assess food security among college students, and to have the opportunity to create a campus-specific project to address the unique needs of UAB students, says Amy Hutson Chatham, director in the Office of Service Learning and Undergraduate Research.

“At UAB, we have worked extensively to understand food insecurity on our campus,” Chatham said. “Those efforts began in earnest in 2017 with a service learning-designated public health course that surveyed 930 students to assess campus food security. This pilot study revealed that 34 percent of respondents could not afford to eat healthy meals.”

In 2018, Associate Professor in the UAB School of Public Health Ela Austin, Ph.D., with a group of service-learning students, gathered data with the Food Access at UAB Survey. The survey revealed that 36 percent of respondents experience low food security, that 70 percent of students experiencing food insecurity also experience depression, and that typically no one is aware that a student is food-insecure, Chatham says.

Removing barriers and providing access, academic and social support for students to attend and be successful supports the Education goal in Forging the Future, UAB’s strategic plan. UAB’s on-campus food pantry, Blazer Kitchen, serves students and employees as well as some patient programs. Sponsored by the UAB Benevolent Fund, the university’s own arm of charitable giving supported by employees, and the Division of Student Affairs’ Office of Student Conduct and Outreach, Blazer Kitchen through its multiple locations offers fresh and nonperishable foods to those on campus faced with food insecurity. Blazer Kitchen in the Hill Student Center also provides students access to school supplies and personal hygiene products, and offers student shoppers education and resources on nutrition, meal planning and healthy living. Student Conduct and Outreach staff are also available to speak with students about campus and community resources that may assist them.

Recognizing the impact that food and, more broadly, basic needs insecurities can have on students’ academic and personal success, UAB strives to remove those barriers so that students can meet their goals, says Jonathan Adams, director of Student Conduct and Outreach within the Division of Student Affairs.

“With the creation of the UAB Coalition for Basic Needs, we hope to utilize the expertise of campus stakeholders to better understand the barriers our students face so that we can develop and implement intentional, high-impact strategies to promote student success,” Adams said.

The ECMC Foundation’s mission is to inspire and facilitate improvements that affect educational outcomes — especially among underserved populations — through evidence-based innovation.

The foundation envisions a country where all learners, regardless of their socioeconomic background, which neighborhood or ZIP code they grew up in, or the color of their skin, have access to quality educational and career opportunities and the supports necessary to succeed.