Food insecurity—not knowing when or from where your next meal will come—is affecting college students at alarming rates, according to recent studies. The risks are even higher for student groups like African Americans, LGBTQ students, and those with prior military service.
A lack of financial stability can lead to tough decisions—Utilities or groceries? Dinner or medicine?—and can hurt students mentally, physically, and academically.
Derick Jones, a PhD student in UNC Greensboro’s Chemistry and Biochemistry department and outgoing president of the Graduate Student Association (GSA), knows that graduate students are just as susceptible to food insecurity, especially as COVID-19 has caused many students to lose their jobs.
To help combat this problem, Jones and his fellow GSA members recently raised over $6,000 to provide more than 240 graduate students with gift cards to Bestway grocery stores.
“Pride is an issue for graduate students,” Jones said. “We don’t want to tell people that we need help, which can cause us to go into a mental hole, facing a lot of anxiety and depression.”
For this reason, GSA removed all stipulations for receiving assistance. All graduate students needed to do was fill out a form to receive a $25 gift certificate. They also made this opportunity available to recent graduates who are facing an uncertain job market.
“The gift certificate went a long way for me, a single graduate student,” said Jones. “For a family, it might provide one nice meal together, which I feel like people need in this season.”
Donations to the Graduate Food Insecurity Initiative came from both individuals and groups at UNCG and beyond, including Activities and Campus Events (ACE), Auxiliary Services, Bestway Grocery, The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, The College of Arts & Sciences, Campus Activities and Programs, The Lloyd International Honors College, The Graduate School, The Division of Student Affairs, and Spartan Open Pantry.
GSA was also able to confidentially connect graduate students to other resources, like the Dean of Students Office and Spartan Open Pantry, a food pantry open to all UNCG students and staff. Because of the pandemic, students can receive assistance at Spartan Open Pantry for up to one year after they graduate.
As a result of their efforts, GSA received a UNCG Excellence Award for Community Service, and Derick Jones received the Spartan Leadership Award.
“To be acknowledged with these awards shows that we, as graduate students, are becoming more visible on campus, which is the main charge of the Graduate Student Association,” he said.
He’s served on the leadership team for three years and calls GSA “my anchors.” Though he’ll no longer be president of GSA, Jones will continue to advocate for graduate students, just on a larger scale. He has taken on a new role as Vice President of Graduate Student Relations for the North Carolina Association for Student Governments, a student-led organization representing all 230,000+ students within the UNC System.
Beaming, Jones shared his excitement: “I’ll get to serve as a voice for graduate students across North Carolina … and maybe even have some pull with legislators.”
Story by Elizabeth Keri, College of Arts & Sciences