Feeding the future: How an MSU Social Work student is fighting to end food insecurity on campus

November 10, 2023 - Brandon Drain

Today’s college students face a gauntlet of obstacles in their day-to-day lives. Managing classes, study sessions, part-times jobs and career planning. They do this all while trying to maintain a social life and juggling personal interests.

Yet, for some, an even more daunting hurdle looms: food insecurity; the condition of not having access to sufficient food, or food of an adequate quality, to meet one's basic needs. It’s a pervasive issue that affects their concentration, financial decisions and stress levels.

Olivia HeathCombating this issue is MSU School of Social Work junior, Olivia Heath. Heath is the service chair of the Spartan Food Security Council, whose mission is to achieve greater food security on campus and in the East Lansing area. Heath, who is intimately familiar with the struggle against food scarcity, recounts her journey towards activism. “I took a course and Social Policy,” said Heath, “And I really got to learn more about the terminology and concerns of food insecurity.” As a first-generation college student with immigrant parents, Heath understands the multifaceted impact of food insecurity on academic performance and student well-being.

Heath’s role as service chair prompts her to engage with the community at large, as she spends most of her time planning events to raise awareness while also giving direct help to those in need. But before stepping into such a large role, she grounded herself in understanding the SNAP benefits systems. “Initially, I came in wanting to help students sign up and navigate the process of SNAP,” said Heath, recalling her initial interest in SFSC. “It was something that I had went through multiple times. And so, I just wanted to make sure that other people could have the same resources I did -- so they're not struggling at the end of the day to make ends meet.”

The co-founders of SFSC, Aditi Kulkarni and Spencer Good, look to empower students like Heath and place them in roles where they can make a tangible difference. "Our mission was simple: we wanted to feed our community," states Aditi. “Of course, being students, we knew we wanted to center students within this conversation. So, our organization, our projects, and our solutions all emphasize student participation.”

Together, they've tackled hurdles and celebrated victories, such as advocating for the Hunger Free Campus Grant Act. They’ve also put together a variety of food drives and have also testified to the House. “Simply put, I believe our efforts to push back against the stigma of food insecurity – among students, faculty, and other stakeholders at MSU and across the greater Lansing area – has made it a more approachable problem,” said Good. “Spartans know that the Spartan Food Security Council is set on ending student hunger and food insecurity; they want to join our cause and are comfortable opening up to us about their personal experiences with it.”

As Heath continues to spearhead service initiatives within the SFSC, she draws inspiration from the collaborative spirit of its founders, as well as her own intrinsic values. “At the end of the day, the work that we're doing for Spartan Food Security Council is really astounding,” said Heath. “A lot of this was just talks about how we could make something happen. And we have made stuff happen. That just goes to show that we are the creators of our own change.”

Spartan Food Security Council

The SFSC is running a food drive in partnership with the MSU Student Parent Resource Center. Learn more about how you can help with this project by visiting https://serve.msu.edu/service-project.cfm?projectID=4734.