Pitt students fight food insecurity with new coalition


TPN File Photo

A shelf in the Pitt Pantry, based out of Bellefield Presbyterian Church.

By Kendall Swift, Staff Writer

Across the country, around 39% of college students struggle with food insecurity. At Pitt, a new group is fighting to make a change on campus.

Isabella Fiume, a senior urban studies major, was hired this spring as a student intern at Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group, a research and public advocacy organization. As part of her work, Fiume recognized that some students on campus face food insecurity. Along with PennPIRG, Fiume created the Coalition Against Student Hunger to fight food insecurity and student hunger.

Fiume founded the coalition in January, and it now has five groups as members — PennPIRG, Food Recovery Heroes, Challah for Hunger, Jewish Family and Community Services Food Pantry in Squirrel Hill and Bridge Beyond PGH.

Food Recovery Heroes is a Pitt group that redistributes unused food from Pitt dining locations. The food often goes to organizations in need, according to their Instagram page.

Jocelynne Dorotan, the president of Food Recovery Heroes, said the organization joined the coalition in February after a meeting with Fiume outlining the coalition’s goals.

“I honestly had not heard about the coalition until [Fiume] reached out to me,” Dorotan, a senior molecular biology and Spanish major, said. “[Fiume] reached out to us in February 2022. We scheduled a meeting with her to learn more about the coalition and their goals.”

According to its website, Challah for Hunger is a Pitt group that raises money for hunger-related charities by baking and selling challah.

Jewish Family and Community Services Food Pantry offers food assistance to people in need in Squirrel Hill and the surrounding areas, according to their website. Along with PennPIRG, JFCS is the other member of the coalition that isn’t a Pitt-specific group.

Bridge Beyond is a national nonprofit based in Pittsburgh that aids those experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity. Bridge Beyond PGH is a Pitt club that works with the national Bridge Beyond organization, according to their website.

According to Fiume, the coalition’s current goal is to support the Hunger-Free Campus Bill, which has been introduced by state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta of Philadelphia in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. The bill, if passed, would provide grants to public universities in Pennsylvania to address student hunger and raise awareness. Grants would only go to universities designated as a “Hunger-Free Campus.” This means that a university must meet certain criteria for the designation, including having a hunger task force.

PennPIRG interns traveled to Harrisburg on March 28 to support the bill. They spoke with representatives and held a rally, according to Haile Proctor. A junior political science and urban studies major, Proctor attended the event as an intern for PennPIRG and said she felt the event was successful.

“After talking with other groups [that were in Harrisburg], it seems like everyone had very positive responses from the representatives, which is a really good thing,” Proctor said, “They also had a lot of insight on what we should do to continue pushing for this bill to get passed.”

Proctor said PennPIRG will continue advocating for the bill through email campaigns and petitions. The fate of the bill will be decided in June, when the budget for fiscal year 2023 is passed.

As for the future of the coalition, Fiume said she is trying to find and recruit more groups with similar goals.

“This semester, [PennPIRG and I have] really been trying to meet with as many groups as we can,” Fiume said. “And in those meetings, we talk about how our groups can support each other.”

Fiume also hopes to hold a meeting with all coalition members to discuss goals and solidify future plans. No future plans have been decided upon yet, according to Fiume.

Although the current goal of the coalition is to support the Hunger-Free Campus Bill, the coalition plans to continue to meet even after the bill has been decided upon.

“I’m definitely seeing the coalition staying as [an alliance] because it’s important for these groups to have these connections forever,” Fiume said.

Dorotan said she is excited about the future of the coalition, considering it is relatively new.

I think the Coalition Against Student Hunger is a great way for student organizations who are interested in the same cause to come together and increase our outreach on campus and within the Pittsburgh community as a whole,” Dorotan said. “I am excited to see the future of the project and how it will be implemented in the upcoming years.”