GHC Selected to Participate in Free/Reduced-Price Meal Pilot Program

Posted on: Aug, 10, 2023

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Grays Harbor College is one of four Washington Community and Technical Colleges awarded funds from the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) to promote food security for its students. During the 2023 legislative session, Washington State lawmakers passed into law Second Substitute House Bill 1559 (2023), which included the three-year pilot to provide free and low-cost meal plans or food vouchers to eligible low-income students.

The pilot will provide approximately 125-200 students access to free or reduced-cost healthy meal options on-campus, three-days a week each quarter. GHC’s Vice President of Student Services, Dr. Cal Erwin-Svoboda explained, “For more than a decade, Grays Harbor College – in close collaboration with dedicated partners including employees, community-based organizations, the Associated Student Government, and the College Foundation – has been committed to enhancing food security among students. Our unwavering dedication is guided by the fundamental belief that nourishment is essential for effective learning. We are thrilled to be part of the SBCTC Free/Reduced-Price Meal Pilot as it will allow us to make huge strides toward improving food security for our students.”

Additional planned components of the pilot program include establishing a food security committee, ensuring there are healthy and affordable meal options at the Aberdeen campus for all students, as well as allocating monies for student-led initiatives and educational workshops to provide a platform for in-depth discussions and exploration of food security initiatives.

“The application process was highly competitive—with over 25 colleges submitting applications for the pilot” according to GHC President Dr. Carli Schiffner. “Thank you to our college team for their hard work in securing this resource for our students. This pilot will let us foster an environment on campus where all students have access to reliable food resources that can improve student’s overall well-being and academic achievements.”

The program will be embedded within the workforce funding and support programs department at GHC, a unit which provides wrap-around services and support to students.  It will enhance Grays Harbor College’s current efforts to support food security including a newly remodeled on-campus food bank, snack cabinets, and other emergency assistance programs. The program will be located in the College’s new Student Services and Instructional building, slated to open in January, which will feature a cafeteria on its first floor.

Approximately 14.8% of Grays Harbor County residents, totaling 10,950 individuals, experience food insecurity, surpassing the national average by 3%. “Recognizing the significant prevalence of food insecurity in our county emphasizes the urgency and importance of addressing this critical issue through within our rural service area,” said Dr. Erwin Svoboda. 

The Fall 2022 Washington Student Experience/Basic Needs Survey unveiled concerning levels of food insecurity among Grays Harbor College respondents. Approximately 44% reported experiencing food insecurity within the previous month, surpassing the state-level average of 38%. Disaggregated state-level data from the 2022 survey highlights significant disparities in food insecurity rates among student subgroups. American Indian/Alaska Native and Black/African American students, former foster youth, and students eligible for need-based funding face disproportionately higher rates of food insecurity compared to their White counterparts. Dr. Erwin Svoboda added, “GHC is dedicated to fostering a supportive and inclusive environment that enables all students to thrive academically, regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds or demographic characteristics. This pilot will allow the College to address the disparities and intricate factors that contribute to food insecurity, and help ensure equitable access to nourishing meals for every student.”