- The purpose of this study was to understand the lived experience of students to discern the impact of their interaction with the food pantry. This knowledge may, in turn, influence future food pantry methods and wider policy, both at PNW College and more broadly. Not only does student hunger have the potential to impact negatively student persistence and completion, but it represents an important equity issue on our higher ed campuses. By using phenomenological inquiry to explore the impact on student users of the campus food pantry, the following is the research question that was addressed: What are the lived experiences, perceptions, and educational impacts for community college students who use the food pantry at PNW College? This study was grounded in an interpretivist philosophical approach, which fits especially well with a phenomenological inquiry that asks students about their lived experiences with a food pantry on a community college campus. Ten interviews were analyzed using “in vivo” coding, and themes were determined using the students’ own words.
Themes that emerged from the study included challenges (food pantry barriers, educational obstacles, and stigma), survival attributes (strategy, resource, and findings), personal characteristics (resilience, caring, feelings, worry/apprehension, and self-sufficiency), and food pantry impacts (education/increased focus, validation, improved health). The results affirm the notion that non-academic barriers represent a significant concern among community college students. Additionally, findings indicate that the food pantry plays an important role on campus in supporting student health and focus on studies. Participants were found to be resilient and self-sufficient, and exhibited altruism toward other students. Contrary to popular thought, stigma emerged as almost a non-challenge; despite the prevailing idea that students using campus supports will feel ashamed, participants universally expressed a lack of concern with stigma. This study, which put students at the center of their own stories, offered several implications for future practice, policy, and research.
The practical significance of this study is potentially large. The study filled gaps in the literature where community colleges are not generally a focus, where qualitative research is rare, and where the voices of students themselves have been unheard. The role of the food pantry on college campuses in supporting student success is now widely recognized. This study is important, since it is vital for educators, administrators, and policy makers to understand student perceptions of food pantry use and its role as a support in their educational success. Particularly as we in higher education witness a push towards completion rather than mere enrollment, we must consider what populations are at risk. Optimistically, a focus on completion will mean a new push to remove non-academic barriers to student achievement that have long gone unaddressed. Food insecurity on higher ed campuses is a critical problem that undermines student success, but it is an issue that is within our collective power to overcome.