UWT expands resources to address basic needs insecurity

State grant money helps to fund some food and housing programs on campus.

A renewable $100k grant from Washington State Achievement Council, or WASAC, will help UW Tacoma address basic needs insecurities of students with housing, hygiene, and food.

Roseann Martinez, Assistant Director for Student Advocacy and Support, has been a key person helping to address food and housing insecurities facing UWT students and in acquiring the WASAC funding. One major purpose of the Office of Student Advocacy and Support (OSAS) is to help students with housing and other basic needs concerns.

“The main things are food, shelter, and wrap-around services for students,” said Martinez.

Basic needs insecurities among college students have increased in recent years, with food and housing being the primary concerns, according to a 2023 statewide study conducted by WASAC.

Research conducted by The National Institute of Health and The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice has reported that students impacted by basic needs insecurities can face adverse academic and health outcomes, and lead to feelings of depression and anxiety.

After receiving news of obtaining the bi-annual, renewable grant, on July 1, 2023, Martinez and several others held a rapid planning session in August to expand on and develop new resources to address students’ basic food and housing needs. The WASAC grant will fund a newly created position, the Basic Needs Navigator, according to Martinez.

“The Basic Needs Navigator will run the food cupboard, manage the food truck, and assist in scoping resourcing basic needs for students,” Martinez said.
One new resource that is funded by the WASAC grant is the Husky Cabinet, with the slogan “Hungry now, eat now.” The Cupboard is located on the second floor of the Mattress Factory building, in the former lactation room, across from MAT 214 and around the corner from Martinez’s office.

The Cabinet is different from the Food Pantry in that a student goes to prepare and eat the food that is available there, Martinez said. Martinez said the Cupboard is for students who are in need of a healthy food option while on campus but cannot afford to purchase something.

“It is not for the student who forgot to pack their lunch that day but can still afford to go buy a Starbucks,” Martinez said.

During the Cupboard’s first quarter in existence, Autumn 2023, it had 651 uses by 491 distinct individuals, according to Martinez. About 70 percent of students who used the cupboard self-reported a tendency to skip 1-2 meals per week.

“This quarter, we will be using DUBnet for the Cupboard, as an event,” Martinez said. “Every event you will be able to check in and there will be a survey attached to it, as well.”

On the first day of Autumn term, the Nourish food truck began weekly visits to campus as a result Martinez’ planning and outreach. The truck is on campus every Thursday evening, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Martinez also mentioned that Nourish is currently looking for volunteers to help support that program and that those interested in volunteering should reach out to the OSAS Office and begin the registration process online. Martinez hopes that the Nourish food truck will better allow students in evening classes to access a food resource on campus.

The WASAC grant is also helping UWT to better address housing insecurities faced by students, Martinez said, especially those facing or at risk of houselessness. The grant will enable UWT to retain two studio units at Court 17 as emergency housing for students, while the OSAS will help those individuals seek more stable housing, according to Martinez.

One continuing resource that is not receiving funding from the WASAC grant is the UWT Food Pantry, which has had an increasing number of students accessing it in recent years, since it opened in 2016. The Food Pantry is under management by the Center for Equity and Inclusion.

An uptick in use has led the pantry to increase how often they order items this year, from once to twice per week. This has helped meet the increased need, reduce long lines on days that they restock, and avoid empty shelves, according to Ahmed Wafai, Student Retention and Community Development Specialist.

“We place the order at least once per week,” said Wafai. “Budgeting is still an issue. We are still short on money for student staff.”

Wafai said that “listening to student voices” is a key factor in how the Food Pantry determines what is a basic need. Wafai also said that the pantry has a survey for students to fill out to request particular types of items, but limited funding means some requests can’t be fulfilled.

A lesser known, and newer, current program that the ASUWT obtained funding for and began earlier this year, is the menstrual hygiene kit program. The kit includes either a washable and reusable menstrual cup or sanitary pads. Interested students can pick up a kit at the Food Pantry.

Other items that the pantry occasionally has available include: toothbrushes and toothpaste, shampoo, hand sanitizer, face masks, toilet paper, diapers and infant formula. Students visiting the pantry can fill out a simple survey to help pantry staff assess the volume and type of need, according to Pantry Assistant Irene Forati.

Another current program, the UWT Giving Garden was created in 2009 and supports the pantry and students’ basic needs, said Giving Garden Coordinator Clair Tupper. The garden is not receiving any WASAC funding and is actively looking for volunteers.

The Giving Garden has recently made improvements to become more sustainable and produce a better yield, including installing solar panels and compost bins, said Tupper. The types of fruits, vegetables, gourds and legumes that are grown vary according to the season, the soil and what students tell Tupper, or the pantry, they prefer.

“Go to the website,” said Martinez of the OSAS webpage. “It has a referral form. Every door is the right door. It’s not hard to find us. They can walk in and make an appointment.”

More information about resources and programs to assist students facing basic needs insecurity on campus can be found on the UW Tacoma student resources webpage.