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College of Social Work

Two Alumnae Work to Solve Food Insecurity

Alumnae address food insecurity on campus and beyond. 

Oct. 9, 2019
Chris Woodley • 

It's hard to learn when you're hungry.

And yet, 45 percent of university students from more than 100 institutions said they had been food insecure within the last 30 days, according to a survey released in April by Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice

Two College of Social Work alumnae are working to change those numbers. Ashley Page, MSW ’15 and Carrie Draper, MSW ’09, are research associates in the Department of Health Promotion, Education and Behavior, housed at the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health.

Draper serves as the principal investigator of a contract with the Department of Social Services to evaluate and implement the national Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education, and Page is a program coordinator on the team. Together, they work to increase access to healthy eating, such as working with public libraries to start farmers markets.  

“During my field education at the College of Social Work, I worked with young people in middle and high school that were living in poverty and heard stories of children missing meals,” Page says. “Receiving that background and continuing to hear more of those stories gave me the opportunity to work with Carrie on a childhood hunger research study. That expanded my view of child hunger issues to also include college students.”

I am thankful that my field placement led me to do the work I do today. I found mentors who are now colleagues and friends and maintaining those relationships has been really meaningful. 

- Carrie Draper

According to Page, UofSC students in off-campus housing are more likely to suffer food insecurity issues because they may be unable to afford a meal plan. Some students may also not have family resources to help them or they may be in situations where they cannot work due to their class schedule. One example of how Page and Draper are helping is through their leadership roles on the Columbia City Council-appointed Food Policy Committee.

“Through our work with the Columbia Food Policy Committee, we provide food recovery for students by coordinating and integrating technology and a Food Rescue US app for users to receive notifications,” Page says. “Aramark (the university’s food service provider) notifies users through the app that leftover food is available on campus. We also work with the Gamecock Food Pantry as a receiving agency and donate fresh produce from local farmers or distributors to serve students. The campus community can also serve the greater community through donating unused food to local non-profits.” 

Page says that food insecurity and hunger is more of a societal than individual issue.

“You can't address hunger until you focus on the issues of why people are going poor,” Page says. “There still may be a food gap for some students after paying rent and other expenses, and they miss meals because life circumstances prevent them from buying food. If we work on poverty, then we can work to solve other issues.”  

Draper is also a co-founder of FoodShare South Carolina along with Beverly Wilson, who serves as executive director of the program and has been with the School of Medicine Columbia for nearly 20 years. Draper and Wilson determined that buying and distributing bulk produce would be an effective way to help low-income families access healthy food. Since April 2015, FoodShare has distributed more than 648,000 pounds of fresh produce and 30,800 fresh food boxes.

“My motivation for FoodShare was around trying to figure out strategies to make produce as affordable as possible for people on a low income, while still giving them the dignity to buy the produce themselves,” Draper says. 

Both Draper and Page agree that their experiences at the College of Social Work helped set the foundation for their current work and research.

“I am thankful that my field placement at South Carolina Fair Share (a former non-profit to help improve citizens health and safety) led me to do the work I do today,” Draper says. “I found mentors who are now colleagues and friends and maintaining those relationships has been really meaningful.”

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