Ramily Market Expansion Works to Ease Food Insecurity Burden

Now serving the Center City campus, the pantry helps students in need.

Roughly one in three college students struggle with food insecurity—which is defined as the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or the ability to acquire such foods in a socially acceptable manner.

“These challenges all have been magnified with COVID-19,” says Dr. Charles Pohl, vice provost of student affairs.

To address food insecurity at Jefferson, the University has expanded its Ramily Market to the Center City campus. Since launching in fall 2018 at East Falls, the pantry has supplied nearly 150 students with non-perishable goods and hygiene products, as well as grocery store gift cards for fresh food and more vegan and gluten-free options.

The Center City Ramily Market—currently in the soft-launch phase—should be available to a wider audience in January 2021, anticipates Jennifer Fogerty, associate provost of student affairs.

Student making care packages for Ramily Market
Population health student Sarah Modlin helps make care packages for Thanksgiving.

Earlier this semester, she surveyed all Center City students to gauge their interest in the market and their needs for the holidays. Over 150 responded and about 25% said they cut the size of their meals or skipped meals altogether due to food insecurity.

A team, including Fogerty, Dr. Katie DiSantis, College of Population Health professor, and Morgan Portugal, assistant director of residence life, spent the week before Thanksgiving preparing care packages of stuffing, yams, corn, bread, peanut butter, jelly, macaroni and cheese, and fresh fruit and vegetables for students to safely and discreetly pick up.

“They don’t necessarily feel comfortable talking about it, but I think there’s an underlying food insecurity issue with a lot of residents on campus,” Portugal says. “I’m very happy to have this opportunity for students to get food on campus if they’re experiencing any food insecurity.”

The Ramily Market is our way of making small wins for change in this new normal.
–Student Leslie Rowland

Some confusion surrounds food insecurity among members of the University community, says Everette Nichols, Jefferson’s assistant director of diversity and social justice in the Office of Student Engagement. He runs point on the East Falls Ramily Market.

“They think it’s students going through the worst times of their lives and living in extreme poverty, but it’s really not,” Nichols says. “It’s a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. With one paycheck, they may have to decide, ‘Will I pay this bill or go to the grocery store?’ It’s a tough decision.”

Physician assistant/MPH student Leslie Rowland will work to better understand this major public health issue and ease the burden in the process. As a graduate assistant researcher with Dr. DiSantis, she’s studying food insecurity, urban food deserts and childhood nutrition/obesity prevention.

“The pandemic has brought on an increased focus on food security for the world,” says Rowland, also an officer in the Army Reserves focusing on emergency management. “The Ramily Market is our way of making small wins for change in this new normal.”

Leslie Rowland
Physician assistant/MPH student Leslie Rowland will use the work in the market as her capstone project.

Along with Dr. DiSantis and MPH student Sarah Modlin, Rowland will help establish the market, which will be in the first-floor kitchen of Martin Hall when fully operational. She will use the work in the market as her capstone project, conducting a literature review and needs assessment and creating a theory-based approach for a welcoming, destigmatized place for those in need.

“This market is the perfect example of our opportunities as public health professionals to identify needs and gaps in access to healthful resources for our community,” says Rowland, who acknowledges her own struggles with food insecurity.

Ramily Market

The Center City Ramily Market will be in the first-floor kitchen of Martin Hall.

In the future, more population health students, as well as Center City resident assistants, will work in the market, taking inventory and making packages for delivery or contactless pickup.

“Anytime we have an opportunity for students to take charge, we want to do that to build their leadership skills,” Fogerty says.

The University community can help in other ways, Fogerty notes. People can buy goods to supply the market through a Target registry or donate money to the University via this link or to JeffSecure, an emergency fund that provides students with short-term financial assistance. Many attendees for the upcoming virtual Jefferson Gala also donated to JeffSecure in lieu of a delivered meal.

The outpouring of interest and support in the Ramily Market “speaks to the heart and spirit of Jefferson,” Dr. Pohl says. “We have a long-standing tradition of taking care of our community. Through everything going on around us with the pandemic and economic hardships, there’s a lot of kindness.”

East Falls students interested in using the Ramily Market can email Everette.Nichols@jefferson.edu. Details will be forthcoming for Center City students.

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Health, Life at Jefferson