“Food is something that helps us connect with each other. That’s the beauty of it,” reads a sign in the window of the Hudson County Community College Gabert Library.
While an estimated 40% of U.S. college students are food insecure, 57% of HCCC students report being food insecure. The U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that about one of every three college students may skip meals while they attend classes, hold down jobs and internships, take care of family members and maintain social and professional connections.
The “Food Fuels Minds” project is a collaboration of the HCCC “Hudson Helps Resource Center,” faculty and students from the college’s Art Department and Rutgers University. The innovative project is focused on addressing food insecurity and stimulating interest in New Jersey’s Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. The project is funded by a grant from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and designed to engage the college community in sharing their food insecurity experiences.
In late April 2023, HCCC students anonymously shared their personal narratives about food, hunger, family, struggle, support and success. Forty HCCC art students interpreted these stories into paintings, illustrations and typographic designs that were displayed in the college’s windows and galleries. The art students also produced an original print and digital magazine incorporating their artwork, the narratives and practical information about how to enroll for SNAP. The magazine is being circulated at college events, on both HCCC campuses and within the community.
As part of the project, the research team from HCCC and Rutgers devised and offered a toolkit for other institutions to utilize in successfully combating food insecurity. The toolkit includes a film documenting the HCCC project.
HCCC President Christopher Reber said the college instituted the “Hudson Helps Resource Center” in spring 2019 to address students’ basic needs beyond the classroom.
“Our ‘Hudson Helps’ program promotes student retention and success by removing impediments that prevent students from focusing on their studies,” he stated.
“Hudson Helps” includes a Care Team that responds to students in times of difficulty and crisis; food pantries at the Journal Square and North Hudson campuses that provide meals to students and staff, no questions asked; nutritional counseling and SNAP application support; a Career Clothing Closet that assists students with professional and personal attire; emergency financial assistance; “Single Stop” benefits screener; Chromebook loans; Social Services Support (case management and general assistance); and mental health services.
“We are very proud to partner with Rutgers University in addressing this issue of national importance. We look forward to assisting other colleges and universities in making significant differences in the lives of students and their families,” Reber said.