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Metropolitan State University of Denver’s new strategy for tackling student hunger is Rowdy’s Corner — a former 1,000-square-foot campus convenience store turned free food and supplies stop for students.

Not only is the space new, but the attitude around it is also reinvented.

The Auraria campus institution intentionally avoids calling the location a “pantry” in an effort to get rid of the stigma students may have around term and encourage them to use the offerings without shame.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in demand from our students, and I think part of that is due to the continued impacts of the pandemic and the cost of living in Denver, but also the fact that we’re doing a better job. to communicate what support looks like and how to find support and that you don’t have to be in crisis to connect with your community and get some help,” said Miguel Huerta, deputy director of the commitment and community programs from MSU Denver.

But MSU Denver is just one of many higher education institutions in Colorado working to feed students and their families.

As college student demographics evolve to include a more diverse population — parents, low-income learners, and people facing housing instability, for example — colleges must adapt to meet students where they are, said Roberto Montoya, director of educational equity in Colorado. Department of Higher Education.

Nearly 40% of students at two-year tertiary institutions and nearly 30% of students at four-year institutions are food insecure, according to a 2020 survey of more than 195,000 students across the country by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University.

Locally, colleges are seeing a huge demand for food resources, especially due to the continued fallout from the pandemic, Montoya said.

“We need our institutions to be ready for learning rather than college-ready learners,” Montoya said. “It forces us to change and rethink our approach to serving our students and to do so through the lens of dignity. This forces us to understand that learners have differentiated needs and we need to be able to respond to those needs in an agile way. I think the institutions are doing a great job in this regard.

Hunger checklist

The state Department of Higher Education maintains a Hunger Free Campus Checklist, a statewide initiative providing a rubric that institutions can follow to better address food insecurity. on their campuses. Some of the duties include providing food pantries, organizing hunger awareness events, and helping students enroll in SNAP benefits.

Colorado institutions that currently meet zero hunger requirements are: Aims Community College, Colorado Mesa University, all Colorado Mountain College campuses, Colorado School of Mines, Colorado State University in Fort Collins and Pueblo, Fort Lewis College, MSU Denver, Pueblo Community College, Technical College of the Rockies, and the University of Colorado’s Anschutz, Boulder, and Denver campuses.

At MSU Denver, the latest iteration of Rowdy’s Corner was much smaller, tucked away in a “closet-like” space that lacked decor or personality, Huerta said. The new location is 10 times larger in a central location inside the Tivoli Student Union and was built to look like a market and community space.

“It’s more aesthetic,” Huerta said.

Students often feel like they’re taking food from someone who needs it more than them by using Rowdy’s Corner, Huerta said, but the school tries to banish that way of thinking and emphasize that it It’s okay to stop and grab something if you’re hungry.

In addition to items like fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, snacks, hygiene and school supplies, Huerta said Rowdy’s Corner intends to be a channel for other services that can help students in need, including financial coaching, nutrition counseling, cooking demonstrations, and student signing. to receive SNAP benefits.

Aims Community College freshman Maranda Serna collects her order from Alexander Gonzalez at Arty’s Pantry in Greeley on November 21, 2022. Arty’s Food Pantry is open to students at all four Aims Community College locations. (Photo by Amanda Lopez/Denver Post Special)

“Breaking the Stigma”

About a third of Aims Community College students who took part in a college-wide survey last year said they skipped meals because they couldn’t afford to eat more than once a day. day.

“There are a large number of students who are food insecure,” said Patty Schulz, Aims No Hunger Campus Coordinator. “They choose not to eat so their children can eat, or they skip meals because they can’t afford to eat more than once a day. So we started researching how we could mitigate that.

The community college opened Arty’s Pantry, an on-campus resource for food and supplies available on school campuses in Greeley, Windsor, Fort Lupton and Loveland.

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Colorado colleges are rethinking how to deal with growing student hunger

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