The Student Services Finance Committee heard from members of the Associated Students of Madison Student Council Tuesday about a newly inserted line item in their internal budget for two student hourly positions operating a food pantry for students. ASM Chair Genevieve Carter and others made the argument that going through other ASM committees would be too slow and that if services for students were to start next year, the proposal needed to be included in the internal budget and this was the last chance. This is a fantastic proposal and SSFC should approve it Thursday.
The proposal, which is inspired by a similar program at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, would pay for two student hourly positions that would run a food pantry for UW-Madison students who need a helping hand. As article after article have noted, student poverty at UW-Madison is a real and pressing issue and it is refreshing to see ASM find a new and relatively easy method of helping.
In a study performed last month by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, nearly one in five students in Wisconsin do not have enough money to buy food or ate less than they should in the past month. “It’s happening on our campus as well, but it’s an invisible problem. Struggling students want to look like everyone else. It’s nearly impossible to walk around and be able to tell what students are homeless on Bascom Mall,” Sara Goldrick-Rab, UW-Madison faculty member and leader of the study, said in an interview with The Badger Herald earlier this month.
As SSFC considers the proposal, I urge the body not to get too bogged down in requiring specific plans for each dollar being spent. Putting the money in now can be contingent on crafting a full plan before the fiscal year ends in June. This way, ASM and campus partners can work together on a well-thought-out plan that isn’t rushed by the budget process. If they cannot get a simple document together by the end of the year, well, that’s an indictment of their ability to get things done (which has long been, in the eyes of many, suspect at best). However, sometimes good ideas require a bit of a risk. In this case, the value of having a food pantry available for low-income students vastly outweighs the cost of about 50 cents per student.
Another concern is that this type of funding might not actually be legal under F-50, the document that governs segregated fee expenditures. F-50 prohibits using segregated fees for providing “Room and Board” and it’s hard to imagine that emergency sustenance is not somewhere under that definition. However, UW-Stevens Point manages to operate solely using volunteers — circumventing the restriction on fee usage and still providing the service. I’m not concerned about this though. The funding in the budget is more a guideline to show that ASM is making this a priority and is serious. I like that.
From a supply perspective, there should not be a problem in getting volunteers or food to stock the pantry. Organizations like the Wisconsin Union and the Dean of Students’ Office are natural partners to supply muscle in reaching a larger audience and a venue for staging additional collection drives throughout the year. ASM should also reach out to student organizations, particularly the larger GSSF groups, and ask for volunteer commitments.
Additionally, ASM ought to lean heavily on Madison Fresh Market for food contributions. As the de facto campus grocery monopolist, Fresh benefits from a central location and relies on student shoppers to survive. Many other grocery stores around the city and state donate surplus stock to food pantries and it could be a great win for ASM to lock up Madison Fresh Market’s overstock for their food pantry.
SSFC will debate the ASM Food Pantry Nov. 20, and will either pass or reject the funding. As a veteran of several ASM budget cycles in my time as vice-chair, I urge SSFC to use common sense in this funding request. Putting this in the budget forces the Student Council to devise a plan for the program, whereas defunding it and hoping it doesn’t fall by the wayside is a much riskier proposition. Pass this funding and spend all of next semester building the best damn campus food pantry in the country. Our students need it.
Adam Johnson ([email protected]) is a graduate student at the La Follette School of Public Affairs. He is the former Vice-Chair of ASM.