Help for the Hungry

Drew students address real-life issues in Morris County.

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Students in “Social Policy and Inequality in America,” taught by Professor Patrick McGuinn, visited food pantries, called politicians and interviewed staff members at social service agencies to research hunger in Morris County, New Jersey—and shared their findings with the agencies to help them better connect their services with those in need.

The students’ findings showed that political leaders in Morris County were often unaware that hunger affected local populations, that agencies did not always connect with those in need and that transportation, language barriers and limited hours of operation frequently impede access to available services.

“We found that, often, hunger is ignored and is not seen as a dramatic problem in society, especially in wealthy communities. Unfortunately, inequality in food access exists across almost every state, even in states with higher average incomes like New Jersey,” said Saif Yasin C’17, a student in the course.

“We really gained great insight,” said Brianna Donofrio C’17, who added that the students visited food pantries and met volunteers and employees as well as conducted surveys. “We found this process very informative and valuable.”

McGuinn said the students reached out to 38 town governments, 35 social service agencies and 44 food pantries and soup kitchens to administer the surveys. They found some problems could be addressed relatively easily—such as having more refrigeration capacity so food pantries could accept more donations and offer fresh

produce—while other issues—such as offering clients direct access instead of relying on referrals—were more difficult to solve.

Jena Angeliadis C’17 suggested that building partnerships between social service agencies could help those in need more quickly and enhance the visibility of services, “There are organizations out there that people don’t know about.”

The course, which is both a Baldwin Honors seminar and one of this semester’s community-based learning classes, centered on partnerships with the Interfaith Food Pantry, the Community Soup Kitchen of Morristown and the United Way of Northern New Jersey. Professor McGuinn will lead two more courses during the fall 2015 semester in partnership with the Interfaith Food Pantry, which he serves as a board member.

Another benefit of the research: The survey data gathered by the course was used to create data maps by students in a geographic information systems (GIS) class taught by Professor Lisa Jordan, which will be shared with the partner nonprofit groups.

“The organizations have told us that this information will help guide their strategic planning, advocacy and outreach efforts and ultimately help reduce hunger in the county, and it was a really powerful learning experience for the students,” concluded McGuinn.

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