Fall 2015


Grad Student Takes on College Hunger

Social Work graduate student Heather King stocks the campus food cupboard,
a project she helped initiate.

WHILE THE OLD CLICHÉ of “starving student” has often been used to indicate tough times in college, “food insecure” is the more appropriate term, according to Social Work graduate student Heather King.

King points to a recent study by the HSU Department of Social Work that uncovered some disturbing trends. For example, 40 percent of students interviewed were cutting the size of meals or skipping them entirely because they didn’t have enough money for food. “I get major headaches when I don’t eat. It makes it very hard to concentrate on schoolwork,” said one of the students surveyed. “It’s hard to do homework when, after a long day, I get home and have no energy.”

King, herself, knows those problems all too well. She arrived in Humboldt County in 2007, “pregnant and in poverty,” she says. Baby on hip, she completed her undergraduate requirements in 2008, but her difficulties continued.

After entering the Social Work graduate program in 2013, King sought ways to help others who shared her plight. She was hired by the Oh SNAP! campus food program as a student engagement assistant helping students apply for CalFresh, the California state program of the national Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). A subsequent internship inspired her master’s thesis.

“I intended my master’s thesis to focus on eligibility barriers college students face in accessing CalFresh, but I learned that the primary barriers are all at the federal level,” she said.

“If we can broaden this evaluation on eligibility barriers, we can begin to build the foundation for tackling this on the national level,” she says. “SNAP has enormous potential to help college students meet basic needs and fight malnourishment and stay on track.”

Efforts to address the challenge at HSU are continuing with outreach and establishment of an on-campus food cupboard. Alumni and other donors have given more than $42,000 to support the work.