Not every college student is a free-spending millennial with discretionary bucks to burn on iPhones and artisan burgers. In fact, a surprisingly large number face real hardship while attempting to complete their studies.
At Oregon State University (OSU), for example, the onsite food pantry, designed to provide food assistance to food-insecure students, served almost 3,000 in the 2014-2015 academic year. The school’s enrollment is around 25,000.
They will now have another alternative if they qualify for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), the federal government’s food subsidy initiative that replaced the food stamp program.
OSU’s Cascadia Market, an expansive, 3,000-square-foot campus grocery store, started accepting SNAP payments Jan. 6, giving students on SNAP assistance a convenient place to shop.
Cascadia Market’s new SNAP status is unusual, says Tara Sanders, a nutritionist with OSU’s Deptartment of Housing & Dining Services, explaining that to qualify for accepting SNAP, a store has to either carry a mix of staple food items defined by the government, including fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy, or these have to constitute at least 50 percent of sales.
“Most campus stores don’t qualify because they don’t have the capacity because they are limited by their size,” she explains. Cascadia Market does and, in fact, it was even close to meeting the 50 percent sales threshold, she adds.
Located near student apartments equipped with kitchens on the campus perimeter, the store is much more like a commercial supermarket than a campus c-store. It was designed to emphasize ingredient-type items over processed, premade meal choices, along with specialty-type items like locally grown produce, dairy- and gluten-free items and international foods.
Cascadia Market actually received the go-ahead from the federal government to begin accepting SNAP last summer, but the launch was delayed while details were worked out, including securing the special reader needed to accept SNAP cards. The cost of the reader was “nominal,” Sanders says.
Only a few students have taken advantage of the SNAP option in the first days following the launch, Sanders says, but she is confident that will grow as awareness grows. OSU has been promoting the option through local newspaper ads, cable and other electronic media and signage at the food pantry.
“We’re really excited because it is a new service for a college and we want to spread the word,” she says. “It’s a real benefit to the campus community and was made possible because of a collaborative effort.”
Contact Mike Buzalka at [email protected]