Basic Needs Initiative

Reed’s Basic Needs Initiative (formerly Food Security Initiative) is committed to providing tangible support around food, housing and economic justice for a thriving Reed community. The initiative is comprised of Reed students, staff, and faculty from across campus who are committed to prevention, intervention, advocacy, and emergency relief efforts as they relate to resource precarity and community welfare. Our goal is to ensure that Reed College is a Basic Needs Secure campus.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is food insecurity?

Food insecurity is defined as the lack of consistent and reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable and nutritious food.

How does it affect families nationally as well as students at colleges and universities?

Recent data indicates that 14% of U.S. households experience some form of food insecurity each year (USDA, 2015). No comprehensive national research has been conducted to firmly establish the prevalence of food insecurity among college students; however, available literature suggests the rate of food insecurity among college students is up to four times greater than the national average. Recent research found that among 3,765 students surveyed at both two- and four-year institutions, 48% of respondents reported food insecurity in the previous 30 days, including 22% with very low levels of food security that qualify them as hungry (Dubick, Mathews, & Cady, 2016). In this same study, food insecurity was found to be more prevalent among students of color and first-generation college students than other students.

What do we know about food insecurity at Reed?

During the 2017 spring semester, Reed’s BNI working group conducted two student focus groups as well as individual interviews with students, staff, and faculty. From focus groups, conversations, and research, several themes emerged:

  • Some Reed students and staff are experiencing or have recently experienced food insecurity.
  • Some students are accessing support from off-campus food pantries, food stamps (SNAP), and other Portland community resources.
  • Some students, with and without meal plans, have experienced food insecurity.
  • Some students have experienced food insecurity whether they live on or off campus.
  • Some students experience food insecurity during academic breaks, including summer.

Doesn’t financial aid cover the cost of food at Reed?

Students may experience food insecurity due to a variety of financial circumstances and situations, whether or not they qualify for financial aid. Some students may be responsible for sending money home to care for family members and relatives. Students may also have complicated family dynamics that lead to family members withholding financial support. Additional factors may include unexpected expenses, such as a dental work or major medical costs. Some students on financial aid may save some of their aid for a time when financial aid is not available, such as summer breaks, which may reduce their access to food during the semester.

Why would a faculty or staff member ever be food insecure? Doesn’t Reed pay enough?

Not all faculty and staff have a financial safety net, even if their income provides a living wage to cover basic needs. In the same way that students can experience financial insecurity and unexpected expenses, staff and faculty can also have complicating factors that lead to short-term or ongoing food insecurity. Potential extenuating circumstances could include the unexpected loss of income of another household member, major medical expenses, housing costs, or other unexpected expenses. Relationship abuse or other domestic issues could mean that a staff or faculty member is between houses and not able to reliably access healthy balanced meals.

What programs does Reed have in place to address food insecurity at Reed?

BNI was started in 2016 to address food insecurity at Reed, but there were a few other programs already in place to address food insecurity concerns. For example, the college established an Emergency Fund in fall 2016 for students facing food insecurity. The BNI aims to provide centralized information online about resources on campus and in the Portland community that help address food insecurity. BNI also provides a centralized physical location, the Reed Community Pantry, where Reed community members can access free food and learn about additional resources.

How is the success of the Basic Needs Initiative measured?

The most important measure of BNI’s success is the extent to which community members are accessing the resources provided. Each person who visits the Reed Community Pantry is invited to complete an optional intake form that includes demographic information and feedback about the resource. We use collected information to assess who is accessing the pantry and how we might improve or add to BNI resources to better support our community.

Is Reed addressing food insecurity in a way that is comparable to efforts at other colleges and universities?

We have and will continue to learn from best practices at our peer institutions. Some of our peer institutions have established food security programs, while others are in the initial stages of establishing them. Most seem to be starting with food and supplies pantries to meet immediate needs and will continue to explore other structural programs and changes to address food insecurity.

What resources are included in the BNI?

BNI is a series of projects aimed at providing short-term support to community members experiencing food insecurity, as well as preventative and longer-term solutions to reduce food insecurity in the Reed community. A Reed Community Pantry, located in GCC 042, provides items at no cost to members of the Reed community. It also facilitates referrals to local and campus resources, supports and hosts events, such as cooking and financial literacy workshops, coordinates food and supply drives with campus partners, and coordinates additional food security initiatives such as food recovery systems.

Who can donate to the BNI? What types of donations are accepted?

  • Monetary donations - You can support the RCP by making a direct donation on Reed’s giving page. When you fill out your giving details, select "Basic Needs Initiative".
  • Direct contributions of food and supplies to the Reed Community Pantry are accepted during scheduled open hours—view our wish list for the best food and supplies to donate. (Due to limited space and staffing, we can only accept items on this list as well as items that are unopened and unexpired.)
  • End-of-semester board point contributions are used to purchase food from Bon Appetit to supply the pantry.