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Increase in Washington college students dealing with food insecurity

Even with the highest amount of financial aid possible, it isn't enough to cover costs, especially with inflation.

SEATTLE — Thousands of college students throughout Washington are experiencing food insecurity, with many concerned where they'll find their next meal. 

"Every student is affected by this, if we made it so this wasn't a concern anymore every student would be successful," said Evelyn Roehn, a senior at Central Washington University.

Roehn said she’s dealt with food insecurity her whole life. Despite receiving the highest amount of financial aid possible, she said it's still not enough, especially with inflation.

"Imagine working 40 hours a week, and then doing an additional 20 hours of school on top of that,” said Roehn. “That's just to pay for groceries, that's not necessarily paying for books or, you know, your cost of attendance."

And Roehn isn't alone. According to KING 5’s partner Northwest Harvest, it's difficult to measure how many students are dealing with food insecurities. But as of 2020, 29% of students attending four-year colleges were considered food insecure nationally. And in 2021, 40% of community and technical college students nationwide were also food insecure.

"There is so much red tape, and there is so many institutional barriers to that," said Jake Garcia, the Public Policy Manager with Northwest Harvest.

Garcia said his agency partners with food pantries and programs on college campuses throughout the state. The non-profit is also supporting legislation nationally and in Washington state to make Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) more accessible for college students. 

"This would eliminate the work requirement for students on college campuses accessing SNAP. At the state level we're trying to do something in a little bit in a similar vein, but this would be a Hunger Free Campus legislation, it would enhance the visibility of SNAP on two- and four-year college campuses," said Garcia.

It's that type legislation Roehn believes would make a difference. 

"Invest in your students, make sure that they are not worrying about their next meal. Let them be students," Roehn said.

KING 5’s annual Home Team Harvest drive to benefit Northwest Harvest is underway. This year’s goal is to raise 21 million meals. 

Ways to donate: 

  • Online at KING5.com/hometeamharvest
  • Text “HOMETEAM” to 41444 
  • Starting Nov. 1, visit your local Safeway or Albertsons to give $5, $10 or $12 toward grocery cards.   

Watch the Home Team Harvest broadcast special on Dec. 3 at 10 a.m. on KING 5, KING5.com and the KING 5 mobile app.

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