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'Everyone deserves to be fed and fed well': Inside the fight against food insecurity at MSU

March 14, 2023
<p>Inside the Eastside Lansing Food Co-Op with a sign that says, "Food For All" on Jan. 10, 2023.</p>

Inside the Eastside Lansing Food Co-Op with a sign that says, "Food For All" on Jan. 10, 2023.

Photo by Sonya Barlow | The State News

Through political advocacy and volunteering, the Spartan Food Security Council aims to combat food security in the Lansing area

Co-founder Aditi Kulkarni said the organization blossomed from a desire to "feed everyone." She knew this was a large mission, so she teamed up with James Madison College senior Spencer Good  to start with their own community, Michigan State University.

"We can't change the world, but we can help our community," Kulkarni said.  

Advocating for legislation that promotes food security is currently the group's primary focus, Good said

The organization collaborated with Swipe Out Hunger, a group focused on promoting food security at colleges across the country

"They pass legislation in states, specifically a 'Hunger Free Campus' bill," Good said. "That bill has three primary tenets, the first being a meal swipe transfer program. So at Michigan State, what that might look like is combo exchange vouchers being transferable between students.” 

Dining plans at Michigan State University include 12 Combo-X-Change vouchers each week. The vouchers allow students to get a free on-the-go meal from various campus locations, including dining halls, Sparty’s markets, concessions and on-campus Starbucks locations

SFSC is currently working to make these Combo X-Change vouchers transferable between students. Good said they often hear from students that they do not use all 12 allotted vouchers each week. With state funding, MSU and other secondary education institutions across Michigan could implement programs to transfer these excess vouchers to students who don't purchase meal plans

“We know that there are students who don't have the meal plan, but nonetheless could benefit from those combos and so the hope is that the bill would be able to allocate money to the university that, in turn, could be used to set up a program like that," Good said

The Hunger Free Campus Bill also includes an expansion of supplemental nutrition assistance programs, or SNAP, to make the program more accessible to college students that are not currently eligible, Good said. Additionally, it includes funding to increase the presence of resources like food pantries on campus.  

The SFSC is in the preliminary stages of implementing a food pantry at Case Hall. Good said the pantry would work to complement existing solutions on campus, such as the Student Food Bank. 

“We recognize that food insecurity is an issue across the university. We've heard from students, as well as faculty members at James Madison, that there is a need and that need has not been fulfilled by existing resources like the Student Food Bank, largely because of accessibility that being a remote part of campus for some students, especially those who live in South neighborhood. So we're trying to  complement the existing solutions as well as combat some of the stigma behind food insecurity,” Good said.  

In addition to advocacy work, the SFSC hosts events to feed the community directly

James Madison and comparative cultural politics senior Kate Loope and international relations junior Maren Nicolaysen are co-directors of community outreach for the organization. Recently, they collaborated with with the University Activities Board to hand out free meals provided by the Kellogg Center

Along with meals, Loope said they provided to students information on food security, resources in Lansing area and ways to get involved.  

Crop and till science freshman Grace Beam participated in handing out the meals. She said many students were temporarily facing food insecurity before spring break — many commented that they didn't have food in their apartment at the time

In addition to advocacy and volunteering, Kulkarni said the organization works to combat food insecurity stigma by listening to the experiences of others

“A lot of our work surrounds community, hearing people's voices, hearing people's stories. It's not enough to just give food to people and expect them to know what to do with it or to be satisfied with that simple action,” Kulkarni said. “We want change and we want systemic change. We want to be able to make sure people can be fed long term because everyone deserves to be fed and fed well." 

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