In between classes, clubs and other commitments, food is a substance often taken for granted at college – a place where adversities like food insecurity tend to go overlooked. To combat this issue, the University of Connecticut’s Undergraduate Student Government, along with UConn Praxis and other student collaborators, have teamed up on a project made for students, by students. On Nov. 1, USG announced this semester’s launch of Husky Market, a program that “provides financial support for students struggling to access healthy, nutritional foods,” as stated on its Instagram.
Srimayi Chaturvedula, a fifth-semester political science and business management major who serves as campaign coordinator of the UConn Praxis Hunger & Homelessness Campaign, explained the program’s origins and how it came to be through a collaboration with USG.
“Husky Market was a project started by the Food Insecurity Task Force of USG, and the partnership between USG and UConn Praxis, which was UConn PIRG at the time, has always been a natural one,” Chaturvedula said. “Both organizations are passionate about student activism and Praxis has a track record of empowering UConn students through advocacy on issues of student interest. The Hunger & Homelessness Campaign’s mission is to fight food and shelter insecurity on and beyond campus and Husky Market was a project which USG and the UConn Praxis Hunger & Homelessness Campaign have collaborated on since its beginning.”
Chaturvedula described how her efforts in the program actually stem from her personal background, which has influenced her work on campus.
“I’m personally passionate about this program being a first-generation American and seeing poverty, hunger and homelessness on such an extreme scale in India,” Chaturvedula said. “To be able to work on these same issues that affect my friends and peers right here at UConn has been an eye-opening experience.”
Although Husky Market has now emerged as a major initiative, according to USG Vice President Ethan Werstler, the program initially experienced a rocky start.
“The first semester we ran Husky Market, USG purchased a couple thousand dollars of groceries, brought it downstairs at the Student Union and said basically, ‘Hey, first come, first serve. Whoever wants some stuff, take it away,’ and sort of advertised it as a free food service paid for by USG,” Werstler, said. “We shipped it all in, filled the room up and handed it all out. And it was a bit of a disaster. More than 300 people showed up and we were sold out in like 25 minutes.”
Having learned from their first event, USG and Praxis made plans to buy more food, occupy a larger room and prepare for more people in need — until the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It sort of forced us — or, I guess more so encouraged us — to find an alternative way to give out food resources,” Werstler said. “That alternative way was what we now know as Husky Market.”
Husky Market is specifically designed for food insecure students. After filling out a brief, 5-minute application form, applicants will receive a $300 gift card to a grocery store of their choice. Due to a heavy influx of applicants, the application deadline has been moved from Nov. 15 to today. Applications are accepted on a first come, first serve basis and spots are filling up quickly. If you are an undergraduate student in need of financial assistance for groceries, be sure to apply by 11:59 p.m. tonight. The link can be found within both USG and Praxis’ Instagram bios.
As of now, both organizations have been blown away by the program’s immense response, according to Werstler and Chaturvedula. During its first event, Husky Market served 160 students; last semester, it served over 300; this semester, although more have yet to apply, Husky Market received over 900 applications, with 800 being submitted within the first 24 hours of the program’s announcement.
“We had budgeted originally for 600 spots for just the Storrs students,” Werstler said. “Since then, we’ve been able to increase our numbers — I won’t share what those numbers are because they’re still in flux — but it was basically a wake up call. It was a confirmation of what we already knew, which was that students at UConn are food insecure, even emerging from this pandemic — which we’re still in — and it also speaks to the power of word of mouth, of the student organizations that are working on this and promoting it. We’re very grateful to have such trust in our program, where students trust us with our identity and apply for a program that I know students really do need.”
While knowing that so many students are appreciative of Husky Market, the large willingness to participate in the program is an alarming reflection of a lack of administrative attention when it comes to food insecurity at UConn. Despite the initiative’s successful turnout this semester, the goal of Husky Market is ultimately to hand over its responsibilities to those responsible.
“I see this program considering more creative and indirect ways to address food insecurity because through the work we are doing, it has been made evident that food inaccessibility and insecurity are issues that the administration needs to address,” Chaturvedula said. “The immense number of responses to our application this semester serve as proof of the fact that food insecurity on campus is a conversation that UConn needs to have.”
“This isn’t our job,” Werstler said. “Giving food out to students should not be our job. This started as a program that we created because UConn wasn’t doing enough to service students. The future Husky Market is one in which UConn creates some sort of sustainable food pantry that services students, or a food voucher or a meaningful effort at dining hall swipes for students who need it, to be able to make a dent in the growing and present existence of food insecurity on campus. That is the future of Husky Market. It’s not with USG, it’s not with Praxis — it’s with the UConn administration.”
Like so many organizational missions, the birth of Husky Market was the result of students stepping up to solve problems meant for more powerful figures. However, power becomes a subjective term in light of what USG and Praxis have accomplished so far.
“USG and the student advocates working on food insecurity were sick and tired of bringing truth to power, so we decided to find power within ourselves,” Werstler said. “And that is what Husky Market is. It’s a realization of student power.”