Since its inception this past winter break, the Carleton Cupboard project has continued to serve students in need.
Founded for the purpose of providing non-perishable food in lieu of open dining halls during breaks, the cupboard aims to assist low-income students amid rising tuition costs. A joint report written in 2016 by Associate Dean of Students Joe Baggot and Assistant Professor of Psychology Julia Strand first recommended the concept of the cupboard.
“[It] is an important addition to campus because it provides another layer of support for students who may experience food insecurity when the dining halls are closed,” said Lee Clark, Director of Student Activities.
Dean Carolyn Livingston added that before the creation of the cupboard, Carleton administration would urge staff to host meals for students over breaks. “Once the Career Center moved to Johnson House, we were able to reimagine [the Sayles-Hill Campus Center] for many offices,” Livingston said. “The concept of a Carleton Cupboard came after that. So, a good bit of dominoes had to fall first before creating the cupboard.”
Samara Kroeger, the program assistant for the cupboard, added that one of the main goals of the program is to fight food insecurity among students. “[It] is becoming increasingly more present and visible on college campuses,” she said. “At Carleton, students who stay on campus over breaks often don’t have the funds to go home or pay for food.”
An opinion piece from the The New York Times about food insecurity on college campuses notably mentioned Carleton, along with Smith College, as a school that charges students a daily rate to stay on campus over breaks. The Times described that financial burden as “substantial” to many lower-income students.
“We are behind the curve … in terms of providing healthy food options available to students when the dining halls are closed,” Kroeger said. “Hopefully, the [cupboard] will continue to help out students in times of need; we also hope to open up a conversation about food insecurity and reduce the stigma that surrounds food shelves and assistance programs.”
Clark added that, in order to make the facility more accessible to all students, the cupboard is open every day from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. during winter and spring breaks. In addition, students are not required to demonstrate financial need and reusable bags are supplied. Confidentiality is also guaranteed for everybody who uses the cupboard as it is only designed for use by one student at a time.
Many low-income and first generation (LIFG) students at Carleton feel ostracized or treated unfairly due to persistent stressors at school. According to Baggot’s and Strand’s report, many LIFG students feel unprepared entering Carleton due to issues regarding their high schools being underfunded and lacking proper preparation for college-level writing and test-taking. This is compounded by a lack of LIFG-related training during New Student Week. In addition, LIFG students have reported social stressors during their time at Carleton. Specifically, the burden of being the future financial supporter of their families, the pressure to go out to eat and feeling constrained in major choices.
According to Clark, there was an overwhelmingly positive response to the cupboard. “There were over 1,300 items donated from students, parents, alumni, faculty and staff,” he said. “We also received generous support from local businesses, including nearly 800 bowls of donated cereal from Post Consumer Brands here in Northfield.” Clark also mentioned that 92 students registered to use the facility and it was visited 523 times over winter break.
“Throughout winter term, we solicited feedback from students and made adjustments to the inventory based on their suggestions,” he said. “We learned a lot from the initial opening and plan to make adjustments prior to opening again for spring break.”
In the next few weeks, the cupboard organizers will assess the facility’s success and shortcomings over winter break and make improvements. “We hope to gain a better idea of what students need when the dining halls are closed and how we can prepare to meet those needs through organized food drives and community partnerships,” Clark said.
There is a food drive for the cupboard from Monday, January 28 to Friday, February 1 of this year.
Information regarding the spring break Carleton Cupboard — including steps for registering for access and the sign-up form — will be available on the Student Activities Office (SAO) website in the coming weeks.