New Mexico Highlands University has received $50,000 from the Higher Education Department’s Addressing College Food Security grant. The funding will be used to support Highlands CAFÉ (Caring About Food Equity), which will address food security, destigmatize hunger, and emphasize student well-being on campus.
The grant will also help fund a campus-wide campaign focused on food insecurity and to bring awareness to the issue. This initiative will include a digital campaign, workshops, and speaking events.
Dr. Kimberly Blea, NMHU Dean of Students, said national data shows how prevalent food insecurity is on college campuses and particularly in low-income areas like New Mexico. Blea said that she does not yet know how many NMHU students struggle with food insecurity, but part of the grant funding will go towards administering a basic needs survey to better understand food insecurity and homelessness on campus. Blea said she will also be working with the Faculty Senate to include text on all course syllabi that provides information about food resources available to students.
“We know these things are issues when we hear anecdotally that students are ‘couch surfing,’ but we don’t have specific data that gives us a realistic understanding of the prevalence of food insecurity and homelessness on our campus, both here in Las Vegas and at our centers,” Blea said. “We know it’s an issue, but we don’t know to what extent, so this information will help us to more strategically and intentionally target our resources.”
In the fall of 2021, Blea helped open the Highlands University General Store on the Las Vegas campus. The General Store is a free resource for students at Highlands and offers non-perishable food and paper goods, such as plates and toilet paper. Due to the pandemic, however, Blea said the General Store was not utilized as much as she hoped it would be due to low in-person attendance on campus. With increased in-person attendance and regular General Store staffing, Blea said she hopes students will use the resource more this year.
“We have student navigators in the General Store, which is new this year and creates more visibility in that space,” Blea said. “The student navigators will be trained to help not only recognize when a student needs some connection with resources, but also to identify if there are more extensive food security issues.”
Student health and wellness coaches will assist students with applying for SNAP benefits and applying for food distribution programs. Additionally, grant funding will be used to formalize partnerships with local food banks in Las Vegas and at all the NMHU centers so that students have easier access to those resources.