University of Connecticut Dining Services opened its Husky Harvest food pantry in Storrs Monday, in collaboration with UConn Undergraduate Student Government and Connecticut Foodshare. The Husky Harvest pantry, located at the Charter Oak Community Center at 10 South Eagleville Road, “will be available to anyone with a UConn ID as part of an effort to battle food insecurity,” according to The Daily Campus.
Husky Harvest is part of an initiative across multiple UConn campuses, including Hartford, Stamford and Avery Point, to combat widespread food insecurity that affects as much as 55% of UConn students, according to data on the USG website. Previously through Husky Harvest, UConn undergraduate and graduate students on regional campuses could access free snacks and ingredients to take home, largely provided by Food Share. Now available in Storrs as the successor of a two-day pop-up food pantry organized by USG and Creating Caring Communities in December, the program will allow students to take as much food — and potentially toiletries — as they want during the pantry’s open hours on Mondays and Thursdays from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
The Daily Campus Editorial Board feels that Husky Harvest is an innovative use of university resources and student organizing to mitigate the effects of food insecurity. We also acknowledge that organizers of the program have demonstrated positive growth from previous food insecurity initiatives, equipping Husky Harvest with potential to meet the changing needs of UConn students if executed and adapted properly. Students must keep in mind, however, that food insecurity does not exist in a vacuum; access and obstacles to food are inextricably tied to the costs of attending and living at a university, and policy decisions by administrators and the board of trustees that endlessly push up the cost of tuition and fees greatly eat away at the resources students and student workers have to spend on food. Despite the nature of Husky Harvest as compensation for the systemic policy failures of UConn, it presents the valuable opportunity to politicize students against food insecurity and the root causes of these structural issues.
The pantry model of distributing food can be useful for promoting access to free, abundant sustenance without judgment or arbitrary limits. Although this model cannot possibly meet the unique demands of each patron, gaging students for comprehensive feedback about what Husky Market does well and where its flaws lie offers manifold opportunities for improvement. As such, we celebrate that “more than 280 students were surveyed on what they would want from a permanent location” at previous food pantry initiatives, according to UConn Today.
While Foodshare and Husky Harvest have not been able to fulfill student requests for fresh fruits and produce this semester, the program’s organizers should nonetheless recognize the immense utility of surveying students on their needs. More specifically, it is essential that any organizers intent on combating food insecurity poll students on what they attribute food insecurity to e.g. the extent to which the economic pressures of attending college strain access to sufficient food. Having this data would send a major message to the university, alumni and donors as well as students and their families about the role that the administration and board of trustees have in worsening student hunger. This is what we mean by “politicizing” food insecurity; student organizers must connect these structural issues to the political process that governs the UConn community.
In addition to the rhetorical use of polling, it may open up not yet-explored solutions to flaws with Husky Harvest such as its distance from the heart of campus, which poses massive accessibility issues for students for whom bus transportation is not always reliable, as well as the program’s only being open for two days per week. These issues can only be solved through a commitment to criticism and adaptability.
Husky Harvest at Storrs and beyond has considerable promise for lessening the burden of food insecurity that inhibits the ability of many students to learn and grow, physically, mentally and academically. And yet, UConn cannot expect to rely on these temporary solutions to problems that far outweigh them. As the university has shown from its arbitrary and undemocratic dissolution of officially-sanctioned activist group UConn Praxis — whose remaining funds were then absorbed by USG — even a Tier-III organization that employed over a dozen students was not safe when the board of trustees decided it was no longer useful financially. Even the plausible conclusion of the Husky Market program proves that students must depend on pressure from without the university’s official machinery to pose a meaningful challenge to food insecurity as a political issue, the central demand being that UConn ensure that each student who pays into it is sufficiently fed. Any other solution, comparatively, is crumbs.
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