Food insecure Jewish students lack affordable, kosher dining options

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By Lisa Woolfson
Staff writer
@lswoolf3

Around one in every five students at this university is food insecure, according to a Counseling Center study reported in the Diamondback last year. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, being food insecure means not having enough regular access to food for a healthy, active life

18% of undergraduate students at this university are Jewish, and many of the more religious students keep kosher. None of the dining halls offer a kosher meal plan, and Hillel is the only place in College Park that does. 

All students living in dorms on campus are required to have a dining plan. They can substitute one of the traditional plans for Hillel’s if they so choose. But what happens if they keep kosher but can’t afford the Hillel meal plan?

Students grab some dinner at the Hillel Dining Hall. Lisa Woolfson/Mitzpeh.

The only meal plan that is an acceptable substitute for the dining hall’s full meal plan for first-year students, according to the Hillel website, is the Platinum Plan, which costs $2,795 a semester.

The normal dining program at this university has accommodations for food insecure students. For example, the Emergency Meal Fund was launched in 2018 and provided 1,660 meals to food insecure students. 166 students received a card with 10 meals each. There is also the on-campus food pantry for students in need.

There is no programming or support in place for these students at Maryland Hillel. Every Friday night, students can come have a free Shabbat dinner. But what about the rest of the week?

MJ Kurs-Lasky, the assistant director of student life at Maryland Hillel, said over email, “If a student approached me about food insecurity, I’d direct them to the UMD Campus Pantry and other campus resources.”

Students on the Hillel meal plan are presented with everything from vegetables to assorted desserts. Lisa Woolfson/Mitzpeh.

There is a program called Challah for Hunger at this university, which is affiliated with Hillel, in which students bake challah every week and sell it to raise money for the hungry. Anna Kaplan, a junior psychology and communications major and co-president of this university’s branch of the program, said they have tried to donate challah to the food pantry before, but there are very specific requirements that the Challah for Hunger kitchen does not meet.

When asked if food insecurity is a big issue at this university and the local community, Kaplan said, “I think people don’t realize how big of an issue it is when it comes to affecting college students.”

Senior psychology major Adina Weinreb, the Challah for Hunger education chair, organizes programs to teach club members about issues like food insecurity.

“I can’t imagine being a student and also having to deal with food insecurity and figuring out how you’re going to feed yourself,” she said.

Weinreb said that during a Challah for Hunger national initiative about food insecurity on campus, this university’s chapter will participate by raising awareness.

Annie Prusky, the Jewish education fellow at Maryland Hillel, said, “Food insecurity is a huge issue on college campuses, and of course it’s connected to inequality, financial aid, food waste… I’d love to be doing something right now but there’s no projects in the works at Hillel. We just need a student or two who’s fired up and wants to help make it happen.”

Prusky said that Hillel tries to have all their initiatives come from students or be aided by students.

Currently, Hillel does not offer any services to food insecure students. But they are open to creating these services in the future.

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