This past week, I found that on the University of Richmond campus, it is impossible to fully recreate the lifestyle of the average person on SNAP. There is constantly free food available to students here which is not something available to people living on SNAP benefits. Three nights this week alone I was at various meetings and events that provided food to attendees, usually pizza. Granted, this number is a little high. I usually only go to one event a week that provides food but this week I had a little more motivation to show up to events with free food. As a leader in several organizations on campus, I’ve always joked that the best way to get people to show up to events is to provide some sort of refreshment, especially food. Pizza is, after all, the way to college students’ hearts.
In reality, people living on SNAP benefits do not have a lot of opportunities to attend events with free food. Sure, there are food banks and soup kitchens that people living in poverty have access to, but that is a different situation from just getting free food. Utilizing food pantries and soup kitchens requires an individual to publicly admit that they need help feeding themselves and/or their families and this can be incredibly demeaning. Our society often judges people on their ability to provide for their families which is unfair because so many people are in those situations for reasons beyond their control. Having volunteered in both food banks and soup kitchens, I have seen first hand how people are often embarrassed by the fact that they are clients at the services. These people should not be embarrassed. It’s unfortunate that we stigmatize people and label them as incompetent while blatantly ignoring external factors that are probably more at play in these situations.
One often hears about the “Richmond Bubble”–the idea that students on this campus are sheltered from over-arching social issues in our world today, such as environmental protection, education and discrimination . It’s an ironic statement since so many of these social issues exist in the City of Richmond, just 15 minutes from our campus. Food insecurity ranks among these over-arching social issues of which not many people are overly familiar with. It’s heart-warming to know that some people are working to understand these issues and better them through various programs on the campus. But this so-called bubble does exist. Simply because we live on this campus, us students are geographically secluded from the issues of downtown Richmond. But we are also a campus of incredible wealth. We cannot pretend to know exactly how people living in poverty–who don’t know where their next meal is coming from–live and feel every day. We can simulate it to the best of our ability, through programs such as the SNAP challenge, the bi-annual Poverty Simulation and other program, but we cannot fully recreate those real-life situations. The best we can do is try to understand and then work so that no one has to live in poverty or in hunger. Because no one should have to live like that.