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Saturday, Jan 19, 2019

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Jefferson Marketplace to accept SNAP benefits


Jefferson Marketplace at Ohio University has been approved to serve as a federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) retailer, marking a milestone in the Division of Student Affairs’ growing efforts to address the basic needs of Ohio University students and area residents.

Students and community members who qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance will be able to use their benefits at the marketplace beginning immediately.

“It’s difficult to focus on academics on an empty stomach,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Jason Pina. “Student Affairs is committed to supporting the needs of our students, including food security, so that they can focus on their educational pursuits. For a number of years, Culinary Services has been a leader through their participation in local food recovery programs. The creation of the Baker University Center Food Pantry took our support to a new level. Today, we are excited to expand these efforts by accepting SNAP benefits in Jefferson Marketplace. It’s yet another small step in the right direction for Ohio University.”

According to the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service website, SNAP is the largest program in the domestic hunger safety net. The national program offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families, while providing economic benefits to communities.

Currently, Jefferson Marketplace is the only Ohio University venue which meets the SNAP/EBT criteria. In addition to serving students, the location’s close proximity to the perimeter of campus makes a great connection with the off-campus population, said Associate Vice President for Auxiliaries Gwyn Scott.

“We have a large selection of SNAP-eligible products and are looking forward to expanding our offerings as the program participation grows,” Scott said.

Jefferson Marketplace’s designation as a SNAP retailer coalesces with the Basic Needs OHIO Initiative, a grass-roots effort being driven by faculty and staff to assess the University’s efforts to meet the basic needs of students experiencing food, shelter or financial insecurity. Since the initiative’s announcement in November, Basic Needs OHIO committees have been working to gather statistics on poverty indicators in counties where OHIO campuses are situated, compile lists of campus and community resources, and identify external and internal funding opportunities. The group has also distributed the University of Wisconsin HOPE Lab survey of food and housing insecurity to assess the status of students’ basic needs.

Food insecurity among college students is a growing concern.

In its Report on Hunger (October 2016), the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness stated that “food insecurity – the lack of reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable, nutritious food – is common at colleges and universities across the country, potentially undermining the educational success of untold thousands of students.” In a study sample of 3,765 students in 12 states, the group found that 20 percent of student respondents at four-year schools qualified as having very low food security.

According to the SNAP website, most able-bodied college-age students enrolled at least half time in institutions of higher education are not eligible for SNAP benefits. However, students may be able to get SNAP benefits if otherwise eligible and they meet certain requirements. Regardless of eligibility rates, Pina said the division has a responsibility to accept benefits of those who qualify, including many members of the surrounding community.

Pina clearly remembers the ‘Aha!’ moment that set the division down this latest path. 

“I was reading about a school in California that had SNAP benefits, and it occurred to me that the demographics of that institution were very similar to our own. It made me reflect on what it means to live in Southeast Ohio – the level of poverty in our area as well as Ohio University’s access mission,” he recalled.

In addition to providing more choice around SNAP benefits, Pina also said the initiative may indirectly help to educate the campus community on poverty and hunger. 

“In an environment where so many of us experience privilege, it’s easy to overlook existing needs,” he said. “By educating students about regional food insecurity, we can instill them with a sense of place and a responsibility to serve.”

In addition to accepting SNAP benefits, OHIO’s Division of Student Affairs supports regional food insecurity through:

Food Recovery 
Culinary Services donates limited food items (such as pastries and French fries) to Athens Food Rescue, a nonprofit that distributes the items directly to those in need. In the 2016-17 academic year, Culinary Services donated over 6,000 pounds of food through this collaboration.

Food Collection 
Jefferson Marketplace, Boyd and Nelson Markets have food collection stations, where students turn their unused flex meals into non-perishable food donations. These items go to Good Works, Inc., which serves area homeless, and, now, the Baker University Center Food Pantry. Since 2004, Bobcats have donated about 4,500 pounds of food annually through this effort.

Food Donation 
The Baker Center Food Pantry opened in April 2017 on a trial basis. It has been utilized so heavily to date that administrators have decided to make it a permanent feature in Baker University Center. The workgroup of students and Student Affairs staff that oversees pantry operations is a member of the College and University Food Bank Alliance (CUFBA), a professional organization comprised of campus-based programs focused on alleviating food insecurity, hunger and poverty among college and university students in the U.S. 

Hunger Awareness
From Nov. 11-19, OHIO’s Division of Student Affairs joined advocates around the country to draw attention to food insecurity and homelessness as part of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Spearheaded by the Baker Center Food Pantry Committee, the series of events included a food drive, a film viewing and the #OHIOSnapChallenge social media campaign, whereby members of the OHIO community documented their experiences of living on $4.50 per day, following all rules for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.