Pennsylvania’s First Lady Visits Bucks Campus to Discuss Food Insecurity

Photo+of+Frances+Wolf+at+Bucks+courtesy+PAcast

Photo of Frances Wolf at Bucks courtesy PAcast

Hannah Boscola

Bucks County Community College welcomed Pennsylvania First Lady Frances Wolf on Monday, June 27, to the Newtown Campus for a discussion with students about food insecurity.

First Lady Wolf toured the Bucks campus, learning just how the college is addressing the basic needs of its students with programs like the campus food market, according to a college press release.

The first lady said, “too many college students are overworked and underserved as they pursue futures that can benefit all of Pennsylvania.” An estimated 36 percent of students know someone who dropped out of college due to food insecurity during the pandemic. Roughly 52 percent of students who faced food or housing insecurity in 2020 did not apply for support because they did not know how.

When Mrs. Wolf joined students and staff for a discussion on college hunger, she shared the governor’s budget proposals to confront the substantial costs of college and food insecurity among college students, encouraging the college community to contact their elected officials and urge them to act on the behalf of Pennsylvania’s students.

In his 2022-23 budget, Gov. Wolf has proposed $1 million to create the Hunger-Free Campus grant program. This program would help colleges and universities set up or expand food pantries, increase SNAP outreach and education, improve data gathering, and support other projects that could meet the needs of hungry students on campus.

Mrs. Wolf shared the governor’s budget proposals to confront the substantial costs of college and food insecurity among college students, encouraging the college community to contact their elected officials and urge them to act on the behalf of Pennsylvania’s students.

She said that with proposals like the Hunger-Free Campus initiative and the Nellie Bly scholarship program, “we have an opportunity to alleviate the burden of hunger for the students who need it most and help them pay for the stifling costs of higher education.”

Gov. Wolf has proposed $200 million for the Nellie Bly Scholarship Program, a needs-based scholarship to support equitable access and enrollment in Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education schools and Pennsylvania’s community colleges. The scholarship would support tuition and fill in gaps for the true costs of attendance.

Dekia Smith, the college’s interim Dean of Students, said Bucks, like the First Lady, recognizes “that whether it’s food insecurity, homelessness, or the need for emergency funds, many of our students do not have what they need to meet their higher education goals.”

Smith suggested the governor’s proposal to ‘Swipe Out Hunger’ would support our work to ensure an accessible, equitable, and supportive experience for our students. Smith also overlooks the campus market, a program created in response to the growing need for resources for students experiencing food and basic needs insecurity.

Smith and Christina McGinley, who oversee the campus markets, say last academic year, nearly 150 students received food assistance and/or emergency assistance from the Bucks County Community College Foundation. The support students received was in the form of a grocery store gift card, direct payment for things like utility bills, transportation, or essential school supplies. McGinley says, “we don’t want students’ educational plans to be derailed due to an emergency expense.”

There are multiple market locations stocked with food and hygiene supplies. There is a market located in Epstein on the Bristol campus, in the library on the Perkasie campus, and in the Academic Success Center on the Newtown campus. Dean Samantha Gross said she hopes all students “feel comfortable using the available resources, including the market. Even if you just forget your lunch one day, the market is available to all students.”

Gross said she and other staff members, are always looking to hear from students who need assistance. She shared how the market is also always accepting non-perishable, and non-expired food, and supplies, as well as monetary donations. (Canned goods, toiletries, cleaning supplies etc.). Bucks market can bet contacted at [email protected]

Gross said, “the market is the most visible part of the program, but Bucks provides SEPTA bus passes, among other resources, for students in need.” Resources, such as the SEPTA passes can be found in Student Services as well as Security and Safety.

Since 2018, the Bucks County Community College Foundation has raised $266,758 to support students who are basic needs insecure. This was made possible through donations from individuals, alumni, friends, community members, businesses, and private foundations. The Foundation Board of Directors also invested in a new scholarship management platform to connect students with more funding opportunities. Visit bucks.edu/scholarships.

Bucks student Karolina Matyka said Bucks “is one of those places where students from all walks of life come together to pursue higher education; some of those walks involve struggles at home, food shortage, low income, and so on.” Matyka said she was glad there is a market to help support students stating she’s “glad that the market is available so that they can focus on their studies rather than having to choose between a class and working for minimum wage to those necessities.”

The campus markets are stocked through the Bucks County Opportunity Council, and oftentimes serves 10 to 15 students a day, says Smith. BCOC also hosts ‘Coaches on Campus’, a non-profit whose mission is to reduce poverty and partner with our community to promote economic self-sufficiency. BCOC coaches are in Student Services offices downstairs at the Rollins Center and available for drop-in appointments.

During the discussion with Mrs. Wolf, students shared the development of the gift-card program that enables students to make their own food choices, in stocked markets, and standing markets, which have shelves conveniently placed across campus.

Mrs. Wolf also learned how Bucks is addressing the basic needs of its students with programs like Keystone Education Yields Success. Funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services at the state’s community colleges, KEYS helps students who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) in their pursuit of post-secondary education by providing career, tutoring and academic support, facilitating support services such as childcare, textbooks, and transportation assistance.

Mrs. Wolf said she hopes her discussion with students about Gov. Wolf’s proposals encourages the college community to contact their elected officials on the behalf of Pennsylvania’s students.