MEDIA, Pa. — Hunger is not a distant social issue — it's one that impacts thousands of local individuals, including college students. At Penn State Brandywine, students, faculty and staff have taken action to combat student hunger by creating a new campus service: a food pantry called the Brandywine CUB-Board.
The CUB-Board was designed in response to a classroom discussion that took place several years ago.
“Marinda Harrell-Levy’s class was discussing social issues, specifically issues around social services,” said Ronika Money-Adams, director of student affairs at Penn State Brandywine. “I had visited one of her classes, and we got on the subject of student hunger, whether or not we had hungry students on campus, and how we could meet their needs.”
The students began to investigate the issue on campus by opening dialogue about the subject and conducting campus surveys. They found that many of their peers did in fact need food assistance.
“When you put hunger in terms of the student sitting next to you, or the student in your project group, it opens up a different level of perspective,” Money-Adams said.
At first, students and faculty tried to work out a value-meal system with the campus cafeteria. They ultimately abandoned the project because they decided that a value meal would make a student’s situation too obvious. As much as possible, they wanted to preserve student anonymity.
“We asked ourselves, ‘how do you offer support to people without making them feel shame?’” said Money-Adams. “If you apply for public assistance, you quite often spend your whole day in an office with people asking you extremely intrusive questions. We didn’t want to put our students through that same experience.”
In 2015, the Student Government Association (SGA) proposed a campus food pantry, which they dubbed the Brandywine CUB-Board. SGA offered to use the revenue generated by campus parking tickets to fund the pantry.
“Our ultimate mission is to make sure students do not have to make calculations toward their next meal,” said SGA President Neeka Pharaud. “The number of students who have to determine whether or not they have the possibility of a next meal should dissipate.”
When the campus’ advisory board caught wind of the project, they pledged support to the CUB-Board as well. Mystery packages of food from anonymous donors began to show up in the student affairs office.
Today, the CUB-Board provides food and necessities such as soap, detergent and paper towels for students in need. It can also accommodate an array of dietary restrictions, including gluten free, vegan, halal and sugar free/diabetic-friendly options.
Students can claim up to seven bags of groceries per month — or, if they simply have a one-time need for lunch or a snack, they can come to the CUB-Board without a full application.
To remain non-intrusive, the CUB-Board does not ask applicants for any financial information. “Our concern is not how much you or your parents make,” said Money-Adams. “Our concern is that if you’re hungry, you need to be fed.”
“Not all financial statements are an accurate display of a student’s need,” agreed Pharaud.
The application does not even ask for the student’s name. Instead, orders are processed by Penn State User ID. This allows the CUB-Board to verify that the applicant is a Penn State Brandywine student without publicizing the individual’s identity.
Although the CUB-Board has received a few applications this semester, Money-Adams hopes that more students will utilize the program as it becomes better known on campus.
“We don’t want our students to have to make a decision as to whether they can put gas in their car, catch the bus, or get a meal,” she said. “They should be able to eat.”
Students can learn more about the Brandywine CUB-Board or apply for aid through the campus website.