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 New food access initiative for Carleton students indefinitely suspended: a closer look

On April 30, Center for Community and Civic Engagement (CCCE) Food and Environmental Justice Fellow Isabel Rameker (‘24) sent an email to the CCCE interest and Carleton Free Food Google Groups describing a new initiative to address student food insecurity. “Whether you live on or off campus, if buying food is a financial challenge for you, campus delivery is available to help offset grocery costs,” the email said. Through this initiative, any student needing food could fill out an anonymous Google Form to request groceries. CCCE volunteers would then go to the Community Action Center (CAC) food shelf, package the requested groceries and bring them back to campus where they would be available for pickup. Students would be able to request this service weekly. “Getting enough food shouldn’t be something students need to worry about,” the email concluded, “and we hope this program will help alleviate those concerns.” 

Two days later, Rameker sent a follow-up email announcing that the program had been indefinitely suspended. What happened? 

Food insecurity at Carleton is nothing new. As another CCCE Food and Environmental Justice Fellow — Lindsay Boettiger (‘23) — reported last year in “Food insecurity at Carleton persists,” 9.6% of Carleton College students responded “often or sometimes true” to the statement “within the past twelve months I worried whether my food would run out before I got money to buy more” on the 2015 Minnesota College Health Behaviors Survey. Twenty-six Carleton students filled out the grocery delivery form in the approximately ten hours for which it was open.  This rapid and popular response indicates that the initiative would address an urgent student need left unmet by existing food access options on campus. 

According to Rameker, “the program was shut down by Carleton’s administration over concerns about students using community resources at the CAC.” However, “C,” a student involved with the recent grocery delivery initiative and Food Recovery Network (FRN), says that some Carleton students are already using the CAC food shelf. “C” cites access to transportation as a major barrier for many more — this initiative was the most 

recent effort to break down such barriers. One of the CAC’s core principles, as defined on their website, is “We believe there is more than enough for everyone and that abundance creates security and relieves fear and anxiety in uncertain times.” Rameker added that “the CAC supported the program and had been working with Carleton in its development.” Moreover, student volunteers already make frequent trips to the CAC for FRN and other programs, so the initiative would complement current work.

Carleton leadership did not respond to our requests for comment at the time of this printing. However, the “Leadership Notes” section of May 11’s Carleton Today appeared to indirectly respond to the grocery delivery initiative. The statement began “No student should experience food insecurity while at Carleton,” explaining that “on-campus dining is covered in financial aid packages” and students can use the Carleton Cupboard during break periods or apply for emergency funding to purchase food. In response to the assertion that food is covered by financial aid, “C” points to larger structural issues with the on-campus meal plan, such as the need for medical and religious exemptions.  “C” describes “a trip to the Dean’s office if you’re experiencing financial hardship” as “humiliating, dispiriting, and the very thing accessibility experts warn against: policing students’ eligibility for resources.”

According to the Dean of Students Emergency Funding webpage, students “may receive funding once per academic year” for “generally up to $250.” Clearly, this fund is not meant to cover all of a student’s food-related expenses. The efficacy of the college’s emergency funding procedure is further called into question by the multitude of requests received by Carleton Mutual Aid. Mutual Aid, a student-run organization unrecognized by the college, works to fulfill student requests for funds unconditionally and has redistributed over $25,000 to requesting students in just under two years of operations. 

Many questions remain unanswered in this whole debacle. While the proposed grocery delivery initiative wouldn’t have solved all food insecurity issues at Carleton, it would have been anonymous and supported by the CAC and CCCE volunteers and would have met an urgent student need. Why, then, was the initiative suspended? Carleton leadership has not publicly commented on the initiative or its suspension. In this silence, students are left to wonder about the reasoning behind the initiative’s abrupt suspension. Perhaps students accessing the food shelf in a more visible capacity would be too public of an acknowledgement that student needs are not being met by existing Carleton food access options.

 “C” also recalled a statement from the Carleton administration earlier this year advising food-insecure students “to attend campus events to secure the free food offered.” This suggestion, too, is problematic: it disregards “the definition of food insecurity, which includes the lack of access to nutritious food. As much as I love CCCE’s Coffee and Donuts event on Fridays, for instance, I can’t imagine being told to rely on cinnamon sugar donuts as my weekly sustenance,” said “C.” 

We agree with Carleton leadership that “no student should experience food insecurity while at Carleton.” However, we know that students are experiencing food insecurity while at Carleton. We strongly disagree with the decision to suspend an initiative that would have reduced barriers to existing food access options. In doing so, especially behind closed doors, leadership has further stigmatized food insecurity on campus and refused to engage with a student need.

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