Food for Change Market Serves Student Success
Tackling Food Insecurities Head On
By Sheryl E. Taylor
It all began November 2017—not long after the epic landfall of Hurricane Harvey—when the UHD Food for Change Market opened its doors in hopes of addressing ‘the invisible epidemic’ of food insecurities taking hold of college students across the U.S.
Start of Something Great
UHD entered a research program conducted by Rice University and in partnership with H-E-B to assess a controlled and noncontrolled group of undergraduate students (excluding seniors) using a $25-per-credit-hour monetary model. The University eventually ended the relationship with Rice to open the UHD Food For Change Program to all students based on a poundage model (30 pounds per week) instead of a monetary one.
“It was important and necessary to change our approach to reach more students,” said Tremaine W. Kwasikpui, Director of Student Activities and UHD Staff Council President. “We quickly realized it’s not just a ‘need-based’ market, it’s a UHD-based market. When you become a UHD student, we want our students to know that it’s a resource for you.”
UHD’s Food for Change Program provides currently enrolled UHD students access to fresh produce, meats, and other groceries in the Food For Change Market. The beauty of this program is that no payment is required when shopping in the market, which allows students to save money for other necessities and maintain their academic progress while balancing personal responsibilities.
Two years after the soft opening of the Market in 2017, Dr. Lea Campbell, Executive Director of Assessment & Accreditation in UHD’s Office of Institutional Assessment, conducted an assessment on the Market, “Analysis of Food Market Users & Academic Success Spring 2019.”
“Assessment is important because we want to document that students are using the Food Market and the positive impact the Market has had on our students’ sense of financial security and academic success,” noted Campbell. “We provide aggregate data on usage rates, student satisfaction, and retention/graduation rates to our partners at the Houston Food Bank. These summary reports allow the Houston Food Bank to report back to their donors about the success of campus-based food distribution and to leverage those results for additional grants and resources. These reports also allow Mr. Kwasikpui to justify the time he spends on the Market and to advocate for more University resources for things like additional space and expanding the hours the Market is open.”
According to the report, “In Spring 2019, 502 students signed up to use the Food for Change Market through an online survey in Qualtrics. Of those who registered, 344 (69%) visited the Market at least once during the semester. The percentage of students by classification who registered and subsequently used the Market was roughly proportional to the overall Spring 2019 student body, with the majority of users being classified as seniors.” (Note the analysis was conducted during the summer following the Spring 2019 semester.)
“Food insecurity and hunger among college students are far more pervasive than most people realize,” said Campbell. “The Food for Change Market is one of my passion projects because I know firsthand from students I have taught and from surveys we have run that a good portion of our students and their families do not have enough food.”
Campbell further explained that from a 2021 survey, it was discovered that 28% of UHD students were skipping meals or cutting the size of their meals because they did not have enough money for food, and that a quarter of the University’s students reported that at least once a month, they would go an entire day without eating.
“I want my students focused on learning and not worrying about where their next meal will come from,” Campbell said. “Having the food Market as a campus resource allows me to provide support to students that I would normally not be able to. The Food for Change Market and UHD’s partnership with the Houston Food Bank is one of the most important projects on campus for addressing our students’ basic needs.”
Since the beginning, UHD’s collaboration with the Houston Food Bank has enabled the Market to touch the lives of many students. From 2019 through 2022, the award-winning Food for Change Market has provided food to students via 14,600 visits. As one of the first student food markets in the nation, the program began by offering food scholarships, sponsored by the Houston Food Bank and available to all Gator students.
The students original allocation of 30 pounds of food per week was increased to up to 40 pounds weekly, thanks to the success of the Market. The Market’s facility has increased its campus footprint from 290 to 555 square feet. The amount of food the Market receives weekly from the Houston Food Bank has also increased from 7,000 to 10,000 pounds and includes a variety of items from baby food to waffle makers—even cell phones.
The community’s response with grants and donations to the Food for Change Market is telling of the importance of this initiative for the past five years:
- 2022: Whole Food Donation: $25,000 in $10 Whole Foods coupons.
- 2021: Houston Food Bank Grant Award of $1,721 from Sempra Foundation.
- Kroger Grants:
- 2020: $35,000, expansion of UHD Food Market programming, and funding for eight student sustainability research projects.
- 2019: $1,592, product donation of reusable bags.
- 2018: Houston Food Bank’s Higher Education Partner of the Year Award.
- 2017: Houston Food Bank donation of equipment freezer, refrigerator, shelving, computers, etc.
“To see a project grow from pilot to being sustained over five years is amazing,” said Kwasikpui. “I have been honored to work with students, staff, faculty, and leadership to grow the market. I give huge kudos to my partner, Courtney Lundgren (Executive Director, UHD Student Communications & Transition Programs), who stood in the trenches and said yes to more work and long days to make it happen. I’m also thankful to have a workplace that values overall care for students. Here’s to the next five years! I am excited to see what’s in store for the UHD Food for Change Market.”
Sarea Crouch, Criminal Justice Junior & Market Assistant
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.
U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.