Faculty and staff from the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, Scranton campus began stocking a food pantry in November 2018 so that all students can focus on studying instead of worrying about their next meal.
As a result of hectic clinical schedules and demanding classes, Geisinger students do not have time to have jobs while pursuing medical school. The students typically take out loans to help pay for rent, food and other living expenses in addition to tuition and fees. On average, new doctors graduate with $256,000 in student loan debt.
Approximately 25 percent of students enrolled at the Scranton campus are first-generation college students and cannot always ask their families for financial assistance while at college, according to The Citizens’ Voice.
“We know there is food security,” said Dr. Vicki T. Sapp, director of student engagement, diversity and inclusion and an assistant professor at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. “We need to take action.”
The Scranton campus established a committee to help first-generation college students, and over two dozen staff and faculty members joined. Several Geisinger alumni who were the first-generation college students themselves agreed to serve as mentors in the committee.
One of the committee’s first goals was to establish the food pantry.
Associate professor and a first-generation college graduate Dr. Karen Arscott experienced food insecurity herself. Arscott and her husband began medical school in Philadelphia in the 1980s after they got married. The couple dissolved bouillon cubes in hot water and pretended it was soup, The Citizens’ Voice reported.
A can of tuna fish with boxed macaroni and cheese as a meal was a treat for them.
“We survived and it made us stronger,” she said. “I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what we went through.”
An increasing amount of colleges and universities has opened food pantries for their students across the nation. Up to 50 percent of the country’s college students experience food insecurity, according to a 2018 Harvard University study.
At Geisinger, students can subtly access the pantry in the health services office, with no questions asked.