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Thanksgiving can be a difficult time for students worried about food insecurity, including international students and students who typically depend on a campus cafeteria that may be closed for the break. Other students who come from low-income families may return home to face food insecurity, unlike on campus, where they have reliable meals, said Tenille Metti Bowling, director of communications at Swipe Out Hunger, a nonprofit addressing hunger among college students.

Some institutions are holding food drives or using their campus food pantries to address students’ needs during the holiday. The food pantry at the University of Cincinnati is giving away 169 boxes to students, said Daniel Cummings, assistant dean of students. The boxes can be customized according to dietary needs and number of people. Food options include stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn and a $25 gift card to a local grocery chain. While most of the student boxes were for one or two people, they did have a few requests for families, Cummings said. Demand for food has been high all semester; since the food pantry opened in August, it has served over 1,300 students, he said.

Washington State University is participating for the second year in Tom’s Turkey Drive, an annual effort to help people with food insecurity throughout eastern Washington and northern Idaho. It partners with the university’s food pantry to give students Thanksgiving staples. Food distribution took place on Nov. 20, and students who registered received boxes with a large turkey, potatoes, milk, stuffing and rolls for up to six people, said Tiffanie Braun, associate director of the Center for Civic Engagement. Registration for the turkey boxes filled up so quickly that the university had to start a wait list, Braun said. All told, the university gave away 104 Thanksgiving turkey boxes. Students in need of more food for the holiday can go to the campus food pantry this week. 

California State University, Sacramento, hosted a Thanksgiving food basket drive through early November to give 200 baskets of food to students. The food baskets contained only sides for the Thanksgiving meal, but the university helped direct students to the Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services, where they could get a free turkey, said Wil Chen, director of student engagement and outreach. And Kalamazoo Valley Community College in Michigan this year used a grant from the Marvin and Rosalie Okun Foundation to partner with local farmers to give students boxes of food for Thanksgiving. President L. Marshall Washington of Kalamazoo Valley said the college was able to distribute about 100 boxes full of chicken and fresh produce, each of which could feed five to eight people. (This paragraph has been updated with the correct number of boxes distributed.)

Metti Bowling said that campuses should consider having extended hours for their food pantries this week to make sure no student is left behind during the holiday.

“When the campus closes under the assumption that everyone has left, they’re leaving behind a lot of students who may not have the opportunity to leave and go home to places focused on family and food,” Metti Bowling said. “I think really making sure that there are things that students can tap into that week is so important, because Thanksgiving also marks pretty much the start of finals for a lot of these campuses, so students are stressed out already.”

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