By Vivian Kwok | Reporter
The Food Insecurity Working Group on campus officially opened The Fridge, a new initiative addressing college food insecurity, on campus Wednesday last week. The group also hosts free food events such as the Baylor Free Farmers Market, which occurs once a semester, and the Baylor Mobile Food Pantry, which occurs monthly.
The Fridge provides access to quick snacks and healthy meals to students who need it most through a series of mini-fridges on campus.
The first Fridge had a soft opening Dec. 1 in 201 Moody. The second Fridge opened last week in the BARC.
El Paso graduate student and founder of The Fridge Jorge Vielledent said it is important for people to realize a stereotype of Baylor student exists.
“[People think] if they can afford the tuition then they can afford food and everything they need to pay per month,” Vielledent said. “But there’s still a lot of students on our campus that cannot afford even the groceries or to go out and buy textbooks.”
Cara Cliburn-Allen, doctoral student and chair of the Food Insecurity Working Group, has done studies about food insecurity on Baylor’s campus. Interviews with students show a story contrary to the stereotype.
“We found that students really struggled because they worked a lot of hours,” Cliburn-Allen said. “Which meant getting food quickly, that was accessible, that is also nutritious is really difficult when you’re strapped for cash.”
Cliburn-Allen said the Fridge allows students to make a sandwich before class so they do not need sit through it hungry.
“That’s really beneficial to students,” she said. “I think it’s a great project for those sorts of things.”
Vielledent also said food insecurity impacts these students academically if they are having to work to buy food instead of study.
“I think it’s important because it’s helping our students in their personal lives as well in their academic world,” he said.
Vielledent said he got the fridge idea from Dr. Hugh Riley, senior lecturer and undergraduate program director in the psychology and neuroscience department. He said Riley has a mini fridge in his office that he stocks with basic sandwich materials for hungry students who need help. Vielledent said he wanted to expand the fridge idea to the whole campus.
“So rather than just being one professor doing it out of the goodness of his heart, have it as a campus wide project where everybody’s doing it out of the goodness of our hearts,” Vielledent said.
He said his hope for The Fridge project is to have a stocked mini-fridge in every major academic and administrative building.
“We’ll have another one in Bobo coming this week and another one at the Martin House,” he said. “I want to get one in the SUB. I’m getting another one in Marrs McLean Science hopefully within the next month and then another one in School of Social Work probably sometime in early February.”
Cliburn-Allen and Vielledent acknowledge the potential stigma associated with food aid.
“Stigma is always an issue because in our country hunger is associated with stigma,” Cliburn-Allen said. “So we’ve been really careful to think about the events that we do and the goals that reduce stigma.”
One way The Food Insecurity Working Group reduces stigma is by avoiding the terms “food pantry” or “food insecurity” in the titles of their projects. That is why The Fridge is called The Fridge.
“They can go to the Fridge and say I’m getting it from the Fridge and it’s perfectly true,” Vielledent said. “We’re using soft names that to avoid all stigma.”
Cliburn-Allen said they want students to realize that support with food is like receiving academic support through the success center or financial support through financial aid or grants.
“We’re excited to continue to serve our students on campus with different initiatives. We’re brainstorming other ways,” Cliburn-Allen said. “We know that food pantries are just a Band-Aid to a large solution that we’re working to solve on our campus.”