Hungry and in College: 6 Quick Ways to Bootstrap Your Way Out of the Rut

I experienced food insecurity in college. Between working to pay my rent and bills back home, I employed several methods to ensure I ate as I needed to. Here are 6 ways I bootstrapped my way through college meals:

Ask for help.  Identify your provost for university or student life and let them know you need help. These leaders will not only make time for you, but they have the ability to reach deep into the school’s pockets to offer help during a crisis. Also, contact your financial aid office and let them know what’s happening. While loans should be a last resort, you should be aware of what is available to you and create relationships with the people working in this office to maximize those resources. If you have an advisor, they can also make these calls on your behalf.

Talk to your boss/mentor. If you’re doing work study, or if you have a mentor in your major or somewhere else in the university, don’t be afraid to ask if they can set aside food for you when they have free lunches or meetings. Also, these people may invite you to food-centered gatherings. Say yes!

Mine for free food! Are there lunch meetings or seminars, short- or longer-term courses you can attend that will feed you? Identify your opportunities for food. This may also include recurring or one-off social events and gatherings (or networking events) which include food. Admissions Offices tend to be a gold mine for these events, but don’t forget to also check in with your local centers for culture and art.

Circle by cafes (including Starbucks), etc around closing time. Cafes with products marketed as same-day fresh are required to practice what they preach. As a result, these places often will put out food that is expiring that day. Make a friend— they will save things for you!

Make friends with the person at the desk. The folks at the entrance to the dining hall are the gatekeepers– they control who goes in and out, and can opt to look the other way if they see fit. Let them know what the deal is one day when it’s not busy. They can help you out.

Run for the guest pass (or ask for extra fruit) from a friend! . Run them some take-home containers for their bag or take advantage of the perks of their meal plans (ie, guest passes). If there are only a certain number of guest passes available per semester, rotate through your friends– often they’ll look out for you.

When in doubt, seek more reputable employment. Often work-study helps to put money in your pocket, but there are other things you can do for money. Consider serving as a customer service agent from your dorm room on behalf of a major company (a credit card company or Amazon, for example). Or, consider starting a business or side hustle– do hair, for example– or sell textbooks you find laying around at the end of the semester online.

What do/did you do to stay above water in school? What/who (role) helped you to navigate through this tough situation?

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