Oregon State University has become one of the few college campuses in the nation to participate in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
SNAP participants will now be able to purchase food staples at Cascadia Market in the International Living-Learning Center on the OSU campus, using their Oregon Trail cards.
The new program is just one way the university is combating the issue of food insecurity among college students, which is a growing national problem. An OSU research study in 2014 found that 59 percent of students at a nearby Oregon university were food insecure at some point during the previous year, meaning they lacked the ability to acquire nutritionally adequate and safe foods.
While exact numbers of OSU students facing food insecurity is not available, utilization of the OSU Emergency Food Pantry (2,974 served from June 2014-July 2015); the supplemental Meal Bux plan (2,182 students used June 2014-July 2015); and help sought from the Human Services Resource Center indicate that many students need help to meet their food needs.
Students may be eligible for SNAP based on their income levels, and if they also meet other requirements, including working at least 20 hours a week, having dependent children, or taking part in a state or federally financed work-study program. A complete list of requirements is listed online at http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/students
University Housing and Dining Services Nutritionist Tara Sanders said that it’s taken several years for Cascadia Market to become SNAP eligible, due to stringent requirements on what types and quantities of staple foods such as meats, dairy and vegetables a shop must sell in order to qualify. There were also technological difficulties with sales hardware that made using SNAP too difficult for clerks and customers.
“We wanted to make sure it was an easy process and that folks who used Oregon Trail cards didn’t stand out when making purchases,” Sanders said. “We want it to be a comfortable and respectful experience for customers.”
University officials were notified in August 2015 that they met the federal requirements for SNAP, and the system was established and tested with help from volunteer students who were SNAP eligible. Officials said they hope Cascadia Market will become a model for other locations on campus.
“We know anecdotally that some students come to campus with so many obligations that they have no food budget,” Sanders said. “We have the OSU Food Pantry and the Meal Bux program, but SNAP is another way to help students have access to nutritious food on campus.”