Student social entrepreneurs address food waste, insecurity on campus

College cafeterias are known for their abundance with a dizzying array of choices. At the same time, college students are increasingly going hungry. A recent study by the Association of Community College Trustees found that two in three community college students are food insecure. Rates are also high on other campuses with another recent study showing at least 30% food insecurity. Student social entrepreneurs on several campuses across the state are taking action.

Students are taking the lead to create their own solutions and help their peers.

Mercy College’s Taylor Coakley, Student Senate President, alongside Catherine’s Cabinet.

At Mercy College of Health Sciences in Des Moines, students and administration worked together the launch Catherine’s Cabinet, an on-campus food pantry for students. Such pantries have also been started by students at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University.

In 2010, students in a food science service learning course at ISU came up with the idea, secured funding and created a partnership with the dining hall to launch the Students Helping Our Peers (SHOP) pantry. Student volunteers staff the pantry, which reaches about 600 clients per year, and also does a mobile food pantry every semester at different student-friendly locations around Ames.

“The student leaders learned so much—how to express themselves, how to organize their efforts, build trust among themselves and in their community,” said Food Science and Human Nutrition Professor Suzanne Hendrich. “I saw great gains in their self-confidence and putting a desire to help others into action helped them connect with other students on a deeper level.”

Student action on food issues extends beyond helping their peers.

Four Iowa colleges (Drake University, Cornell College, Iowa State University and Grinnell College) are a part of the national Food Recovery Network, which supports students in packaging unused dining hall food and delivering it to local organizations working to fight hunger. Simpson College has also started a program and is in the process of being certified as a chapter.

Simpson College students move unused dining hall food.

“The most appealing part is knowing that the food recovery program is helping local families, because I love the Indianola community,” said sophmore Olivia Pellegrino. “On some deliveries we bring over 100 pounds of food to the church. All that food would be wasted otherwise.”

Drake student social entrepreneurs are taking this a step further and creating new ways to distribute the food to community members. Under the direction of the Office of Community Engaged Learning, students recently received a $10,000 Wellmark Foundation Community Kickstarter grant to fund a pilot project that will create 10 little free food pantries in the Drake Neighborhood. The Little Free Pantry program launched last summer in Arkansas, Grand View University also has one one campus.

Students gain entrepreneurial skills for the future.

Students launching these efforts saw a challenge and took innovative action to create a solution. Experiences like these put students in the role of “social entrepreneur.” The Association of American Colleges and Universities reported that “social entrepreneurship gives students opportunities to practice relevant skills, such as communication, empathy, and critical thinking, while empowering members of their own and other communities.” Students with these experiences will graduate with the skills to lead change in their workplaces and in their communities.

Read more stories like these and learn about the Giving Voice to the Civic Mission initiative.