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Western Earns Hunger Free Campus Designation from State

Western Earns Hunger Free Campus Designation from State

Hunger Free Campus

At the end of the day … we take care of our people”

                                                  

GUNNISON, Colorado: Western Colorado University was recently certified as Hunger Free by the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE). The new certification comes after Western was granted the Healthy Minds certification last year in recognition of the programs on campus aimed at improving students’ mental health.

 

“When students are well taken care of, they’re able to flourish here. They’re able to focus on academics and success inside and outside the classroom. I think [these designations] send a strong message that we have programs in place to take care of people,” Dean of Students Gary Pierson said. “At the end of the day, that is the essence of who we are as a campus community. We take care of our people.”

 

Western’s Food Security Initiatives

 

Western earned the Hunger Free designation for all the many ways Mountaineers address food insecurity, which can have a negative impact on students’ GPAs, mental health, and social lives.

 

Alongside the Mountaineer Marketplace (formerly the Food Hub), where healthy food is collected and distributed to students, faculty, and staff, Western provides programs that help students sign up for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), holds hunger awareness events, and tracks and reports data related to food insecurity on campus so troubling trends can be seen and addressed.

 

“In the United States, up to 60 percent of college students experience food insecurity which in turn impacts not only their well-being but also their academics,” Program Coordinator for Student Health and Wellness, Christine Spiers, said. “The number of students who use the on-campus pantry and are eligible or enrolled in SNAP benefits shows that Western students are included in this 60 percent.

Canned food inside of a portable pantry

 

Helping the Western Community

 

In the first quarter of 2023, the food pantry helped an average of 90 people each month who represented more than 80 households in the Western community. In February, Western was awarded a grant that supports a designated SNAP PEAS (Partners Engaging in Application Services) on-site assistant and enrollment specialist to help students learn about SNAP, explore their eligibility, and apply to the program.

Based on the data, Spiers estimates that around 20 to 25 percent of Western students are food insecure, with nearly 300 students signed up to use the program since the pantry doors opened in February.

 

Hunger Free and Healthy Minds

 

The Hunger Free designation comes after Western went through a similar process last year to earn the Healthy Minds designation for showing steps that the Mountaineer community had taken to address students’ mental health needs. That program focused on providing online and in-person mental health services and events, access to programs like yoga and meditation, time management guidance, and physical, nutritional, and brain health.

 

The state-run Hunger Free and Healthy Minds programs provide colleges and universities with a checklist to follow that focuses on access, awareness, and integration of programs aimed at providing support to students and recognizing the institutions that prioritize the health and well-being of people in the community. Pierson points out that without seeing their basic needs met, like food and well-being, students can’t reach their full potential.

 

How the Healthy Mind Initiative Helps Western Students

 

The Healthy Minds initiative was a similar program that focused on providing online and in-person mental health services and events, access to programs like yoga and meditation, guidance in time management, as well as physical, nutritional, and brain health.

 

“It’s a win-win,” Pierson said of the designation. “It’s a win for students because of the services we provide. And it’s also a win for Western because it’s a reflection of who we are as a university and how we take care of people.”

 

For more information about the Mountaineer Food Hub and the programs in place to support students’ health and well-being, visit western.edu.

 

About Western Colorado University: Established in 1901, Western is a four-year public institution in Gunnison, Colo. that offers undergraduate and graduate programs in over 100 areas of study. Our campus on the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains is home to more than 2,000 resident students, while approximately 1,600 additional students take courses at the University remotely.

 

Author Credit: Seth Mensing

Photo Credit: Olivia Reinhardt

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