Food insecurity threatens the mental, physical health of college students


Mia Hennen

Students look through the Shocker Support Locker for different food or hygiene products. The locker offered free products to students, faculty and staff Monday through Friday.

Many students who chose to remain in or around campus during winter break will soon face a new, more covert issue: food insecurity. 

In a 2019 survey, an estimated 34-59% of university students in Kansas experience food insecurity, a figure that adds to already numerous end-of-the-year stressors. While nearly 10% of Kansans suffer from food insecurity, disproportionate rates continue to increase among college student populations. 

With Wichita State campus located inside of and around several food deserts — low-income areas with limited access to healthy, accessible food — the Shocker Support Locker aids hundreds of students who struggle with food-related struggles. The pantry provides up to 20 weekly credits worth of food, clothing, toiletries, and baby and family products, free of charge to students, faculty and staff in need. 

For international exchange students like Sai Sri Raj Nallam, a frequent visitor of The Shocker Support Locker, finding the means to afford and find more expensive, less accessible food is an additional challenge already atop culture shock and academic stresses.

“I was a bit disappointed because there are no grocery stores … available in the campus as well as near to the campus,” Nallam said. 

Finding the time, money and transportation necessary to even visit the grocery store can be a challenge for Nallam, who negates some of these struggles by visiting the grocery store once a month with his roommate. 

“We have to manage everything at the same time. If I had a class, I have to miss the class,” Nallam said. 

Oftentimes, the limited access proves too much, and Nallam has to settle for calorically insufficient alternatives.

“If I get to a situation like that … If there is bread available, I will eat the bread, and if there is milk available, I’ll drink the milk,” Nallam said. “That’s how I manage.”

The Shocker Support Locker has seen a higher volume of students searching for free meals during the Fall 2022 academic year than ever before. 

Cailtin Nolen, student advocacy coordinator for the locker, and her four student employees have found themselves struggling to keep shelves stocked. While Nolen recognizes food is an issue that cannot be solved by just one food bank, she said the locker is a positive step in the right direction.

“With the Shocker Support Locker, we’re not gonna cure food insecurity, but we can make sure we put a dent into it to help people on campus,” Nolen said.

The locker primarily relies on donations from local food banks and community partners, such as The Kansas Food Bank, Chartwells Dining and United Way of the Plains. However, many of the donation deliveries are made on Mondays, so products received by the locker at the beginning of the week are long gone by Wednesday, leaving students who cannot make it early with little to anything. 

“On days when we restock, there’ll be like 60 people waiting outside in the hall. But on days that are like kind of slower, we might see like 30 people a day,” Emma Glover, a student worker for the locker, said.

Rocketing prices have also put a strain on the locker. Nolen observed that, in a year’s time, she went from ordering 24 cans of peaches for $8 to ordering 12 cans for $30. These price jumps make it harder to financially support the locker throughout the academic year. 

“We only get so much money …. a year to allocate, and if we keep spending all that money, we’re not gonna have money to provide for students second semester,” Nolen said. “It’s very hard to meet a lot of students’ needs.”

Nolen and her employees fear that continuous food insecurity can not only negatively impact a student’s physical health, but mental and emotional health as well. As sourced in the National Library of Medicine, food insecurity in college students directly contributes to increased odds of having anxiety, depression, loneliness and self-injurious behaviors. 

“If you are worried about not being able to have food to eat, you’re not going to worry about your classes, or like having fun so it can really dampen your mood and your anxiety,” Glover said. 

Many Shocker Support Locker regulars, like Nallam, share the same sentiment.

“If we have good food, and we have a good stomach, we can concentrate more in class,” Nallam said. 

To combat food insecurity, whether on or off campus, Nolen and her employees encourage community members and Wichita State students, faculty and staff to give to those in need when they can and publicly promote and uplift organizations that work to eradicate food insecurity. 

Whether reposting a flyer for an upcoming food drive or taking the time out of your day to volunteer at a local food bank, any donation or service is one step closer to ensuring that every belly in Wichita has access to essential, nutritious food. 

Individuals interested in giving back to the community can volunteer or donate money and/or food items to local food banks and organizations that have pledged to end food insecurity, such as the Our Daily Bread Food Pantry, The Kansas Food Bank, His Helping Hands Food Pantry, or food banks and pantries listed on