The announcement recognizes the work Jefferson does to address food-insecurity needs with the Ramily Markets and beyond.
The commonwealth’s Department of Education has designated the University as a Pennsylvania Hunger-Free+ Campus designation to recognize work done to address its community’s needs.
The designation is part of the Pennsylvania Hunger-Free Campus Initiative, which was created to advance student food-security efforts across the state.
The initiative includes building a coalition of colleges and universities focused on addressing hunger and other basic needs for their students; creating opportunities for connection among student hunger advocates; providing resources and strategies for campuses; and supporting opportunities to apply for grants related to addressing food insecurity.
“With this designation, the University will have access to annual grant opportunities that will allow us to expand our anti-hunger work on campus,” says Dr. Katie DiSantis, associate professor of public health within the College of Population Health.
While pandemic-related issues prompted the initiative’s creation, Jefferson’s efforts pre-date that, with the Ramily Market opening on the East Falls campus in 2018 and since expanding to Center City to help ease the food-insecurity burdens.
“We have been addressing the unfortunate needs of the campus community far before the pandemic. Indeed, even before the opening of the market, we had been helping students informally,” says Dr. Jeff Cromarty, senior vice president of campus operations. “The commonwealth designation is an acknowledgement of the important and valuable work we have done and a commitment to doing more.”
Leading the charge in East Falls is Assistant Director for Diversity and Social Justice Holly Lightcap and Director of Student Engagement Heather Weaver.
“It has truly been a long road and process since the market opened in East Falls,” says Associate Dean of Students Timothy J. Butler of the convenient Kanbar Campus Center location. “The journey has been well worth it for our students and the University, and we have made amazing progress in our food insecurity issues. We also have built great partnerships with local resources and food banks that our students can also be referred to with ease of access.”
The effort meets a serious need within our community, and that the success and designation are very rewarding, Butler says.
“In East Falls, we directly engage our students with food insecurity challenges and overall awareness by providing jobs for them in the Ramily Market but also through the opportunities available to them through our many community services initiatives,” he adds.
Built off the East Falls model, Center City’s Martin Hall location opened in 2021 and the effort expanded to the Dixon Campus in 2022. The healthy food-focused pantry offerings include whole grains, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables, and shelf-stable proteins. Non-food basic-need items, including feminine products and soap, are also popular.
Dr. DiSantis notes that the market is staffed by master of public health students completing their applied learning experience. Many have focused their capstones on the issue of food insecurity among graduate students, she adds.
She says the designation “recognizes the work we have already put into ensuring access to food,” including the Ramily Markets, the JeffSecure Emergency Fund and beyond and “acknowledges the work being done across Jefferson’s campuses to support the basic needs of students.”
Associate Provost of Student Affairs Jennifer Fogerty says that Center City is making great strides within the food insecurity initiative and cites Carmina Taylor, director of campus and community engagement, and Associate Provost of Student Affairs Je’Nai Righter as integral members of the team.
They have recently secured a new Ramily Market space in Jefferson Alumni Hall, which includes a full kitchen, and will allow for expanded offerings to students and create a sense of community when it opens in the summer or early fall, Fogerty says.
“Access to nutritious food is one the key social determinants of health and promotes success by reducing hunger so students can focus on their education and achieving their goals,” she says. “We strive to serve our students and to engage our students with food insecurity solutions in the larger community as well, contributing to overall health equity in the city.”
Jefferson becomes just the third university in Philadelphia to receive the designation, according to a list of grant recipients provided by the Department of Education, which awarded $1 million in grants this year. Now, work will continue to address food and nutritional disparities faced by students at all University campuses.