Coppin State University joins efforts to address food insecurity among students

Published 6/13/2023 5:30 a.m. EDT

Christopher Thomas, Assistant Director, Center for Counseling and Student Development, restocks Pringles chips inside Coppin State’s brand new “Coppin Corner” resource center on May 31, 2023. To help students facing food insecurities, Coppin State University just recently launched the Coppin Corner, a food resource center that carries non-perishable food items, frozen foods, personal hygiene products and cleaning supplies

Students who walk through the aisles of Coppin State University’s new food resource center, Coppin Corner, will find a supermarket-style setup filled with nonperishable foods, snacks, cleaning products and more.

Registered Coppin State University students can also pick up personal hygiene items such as deodorant and soap or quick meals like ramen or microwaveable breakfast sandwiches.

The university hopes to help students have one less thing to worry about when pursuing their degrees. Food insecurity isn’t uncommon on college campuses as some students juggle jobs, families and other personal situations. Studies have found that food insecurity can affect a student’s health and academic performance.

“We can help address and alleviate difficulties that come from not knowing where the next meal is coming from,” said Robyne McCullough, a spokeswoman for Coppin State University.

The Coppin Corner opened on campus in May. All the items are free to students, but there are limits to how much of each item that students can take per visit. Students simply register with the Coppin Corner to shop.

Universities, nonprofits and more are undertaking efforts to address food insecurity among students and Marylanders. Up to one in three Marylanders may face food insecurity, according to the Maryland Food Bank, which also partners with higher education institutions that provide food assistance to students. Between April 2022 and March 31, 2023, the Maryland Food Bank distributed nearly 10 million pounds of food in Baltimore City, according to the nonprofit’s Maryland Hunger Map.

United Way of Central Maryland’s latest Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed report found that 38% of households in Maryland can’t afford the state’s cost of living. The 211 Maryland United Way Helpline that helps callers with health and human service issues had nearly 12,000 calls last year from people who needed resources for food, according to Franklyn Baker, the president and chief executive officer of United Way.

“Households are just struggling to try to make ends meet and they probably are losing ground, honestly,” Baker said.

Coppin State University, which had about 2,000 enrolled students in fall 2022, doesn’t currently have data on food insecurity specifically. But it said 66% of Coppin State undergraduates receive Pell grants, which help lower-income students with higher education costs.

The university sought to make the resource center an inviting place for all students and one that didn’t single out those who might need it most.

“The design moves us on from the pre-connotation that it is a food pantry when it looks like a supermarket,” said Dorothy Parrish-Harris, the dean of students and assistant vice president of enrollment management and student affairs at Coppin State, a public historically Black university.

Since 2018, Morgan State University has operated a food resource center that also does not operate like a pantry because of a stigma that gets attached to it, said C. Melissa Thomas, director of Morgan State University’s Food Resource Center.

The center, she said, aims to “render education with supplementation.” In addition to providing food and other items, the center teaches about couponing, meal planning, meal prep and market navigation. Thomas added that every student’s situation is different and that means there has to be innovation when providing resources.

“In the way that we offer our programming, we are able to engage people better. It doesn’t seem like charity. We don’t seem like we are pitying,” she said.

Another resource is the Hunger-Free Campus Grant Program, a state grant program that gives funding to public and regional higher education institutions in Maryland to support efforts to address food insecurities among students. Part of the criteria includes having a staff member that can help students enroll in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or connect them with outreach partners who can do so.

“It’s pivotal to the work we do. We aren’t only food distribution, but we are helping connect them to other resources they need for self-sufficiency,” said Nekeisia Booyer, chief programs officer with the Maryland Food Bank.

The Coppin Corner is just getting started, but there are ideas to possibly incorporate classes to further educate students on topics like nutrition or other resources available to them.

Students were able to visit the Coppin Corner food resource center and pick up food and other items before the summer break and summer classes. Small labels indicate how much of each item students can take per visit. During the summer months, Coppin Corner will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. The university is still confirming hours for the fall, but the center will be open year-round.

The center is supported by donations and grants from private and community partners. A plaque inside Coppin Corner thanks the late James “Winky” Camphor and his wife Florine “Peaches” Camphor, who helped initiate the campus effort to address food insecurity.

Coppin State University President Anthony L. Jenkins said he hopes Coppin Corner continues to grow and “that students understand that dealing with food insecurities, or dealing with any other personal matter should always be something that is embraced.”

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