Posted November 1, 2023

At World Food Day event, Food Insecurity Task Force addresses hunger on campus

At its World Food Day event, Temple’s Food Insecurity Task Force distributed hundreds of pounds of free food and shared information about hunger among college students.

A sign at the World Food Day event reads FREE FOOD
Photography By: 
Joseph V. Labolito
Hundreds of pounds of free food were distributed at Temple's World Food Day event, hosted by the Food Insecurity Task Force.

A sign at Temple’s World Food Day event on October 16 boasted “FREE FOOD” and pointed the way towards boxes and baskets full of bell peppers, apples and other fresh produce ripe for the taking. The event was the first hosted by Temple’s newly formed Food Insecurity Task Force, which was created to reduce hunger and food insecurity on Temple’s campus and beyond.

According to a National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, more than 23% of college students in the United States are experiencing food insecurity. Comprising various faculty, staff and students throughout Temple’s schools and colleges, as well as the Hope Center, Temple Libraries and TU’s Office of Sustainability, the Food Insecurity Task Force employs a cross-disciplinary, integrated approach that centralizes efforts to focus on one thing: finding long- and short-term solutions to the problem of food insecurity and hunger for Temple’s undergraduate and graduate students and others throughout the North Philadelphia community.

“The idea behind creating the task force emerged from the need to address student food insecurity in a more centralized manner than we previously were. Student food insecurity is a complex issue that requires innovative problem solving, and convening a group of Temple students, staff and faculty from diverse backgrounds allows us to be comprehensive in our approach to addressing this issue,” stated Annette Ditolvo, Food Insecurity Task Force co-chair and coordinator of the Barnett and Irvine Cherry Pantry, the university’s food pantry open to all students and staff.

“There have been and continue to be numerous student and academic-related groups that address food insecurity on campus and in our surrounding areas.  The Task Force is a holistic way to support each other in these efforts.  It’s good to know who is doing what, when, and where so that we can be more efficient in getting the word out to those that need and to those that want to help,” said Marissa Cloutier, Food Insecurity Task Force co-chair and assistant professor in the College of Public Health.

The formation of the Food Insecurity Task Force is part of an effort to gain designation as a Hunger-Free Campus by Pennsylvania, which was granted this summer. Such a designation is intended to address the issue of collegiate food insecurity and opens up opportunities for colleges working to combat this problem. To gain designation as a Hunger-Free Campus, an institution must meet certain criteria, including having a food pantry, implementing strategies in place to increase awareness of SNAP eligibility, collecting data on student food insecurity and finally, forming a task force. 

World Food Day, founded by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, is celebrated annually on Oct. 16 as a global observance to raise awareness of worldwide hunger and malnutrition. Temple’s celebration of World Food Day, sponsored by the Office of Sustainability and hosted by the Food Insecurity Task Force, was held next to Ritter Annex. This event was a chance for students to learn more about the issue of food insecurity on campus, connect with other people that are interested in the issue, and, most importantly, get access to nutritious, free food. 

Temple’s chapter of Sharing Excess—a national organization that collects surplus food that would otherwise go to waste from food distributors, wholesalers, farmers, or restaurants and supplies it to people in need—distributed three pallets, equal to hundreds of pounds, of food during the World Food Day event. Zoe Longley, Class of 2023, president of Temple’s chapter of Sharing Excess, which also hosts monthly food distribution pop-up events around campus, notes the importance of offering resources to students: “Given the fact that we are in a food desert in North Philadelphia, there's another added layer of stress on students to secure their next meal. It's vital to the well-being of our student population and those who inhabit North Philadelphia at large to have these resources. Sharing Excess pop-ups or the Cherry Pantry allows residents of this area to have a food safety net.” 

The World Food Day event also featured a donation drive for the Cherry Pantry and representation from student clubs and organizations that address food insecurity, including Temple Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS), and Eta Sigma Gamma, a national health education honor society, as well as graduate certificate programs that are addressing some element of food. Since the theme of World Food Day 2023 was “Water is life, water is food,” Philadelphia’s Water Department set up a water bar and water tasting, along with information about water quality in Philadelphia.

Laurel Chase, Student Center operations manager, and  Ditolvo have also created a Slack channel called the Cherry Pantry FoodShare Project that alerts students of leftover food from events. With channels like “#free-food-main” and “free-food-ambler,” members can post places on campus that have surplus food from events that students are free to take, simultaneously preventing waste and providing students with free meals and snacks. This is one of the many resources discussed in monthly task force meetings. 

All of the Food Insecurity Task Force’s efforts are centered on alleviating hunger on campus so that college students can focus on what’s most important: learning. As Cloutier puts it, “If you're hungry, you can't focus. So if you want to maximize students’ experience here at Temple, you really have to ask, ‘Are they able to eat?’”