The University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service recently surpassed the milestone of 1,000 field service projects. Clinton School students have combined to produce 367,535 hours – or more than 42 years – of civic engagement. Throughout the year, the school will take a look back at some of the long-term impacts its field service projects have created in Arkansas, across the United States, and around the world.
Brandon Mathews ('15) entered the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service with a vested interest in food insecurity on college campuses.
Mathews’ professional work with food insecurity started as a student volunteer at the Full Circle Campus Food Pantry at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. But his personal experience started earlier.
As a food insecure student himself, he knew first-hand the challenges of hunger and the negative impacts it could have on the educational experience.
By the time Mathews graduated from the Clinton School in 2015, he had completed a major field service project that makes it easier for college campuses in Arkansas to initiate food pantries. He connected his work with the College and University Food Bank Alliance (CUFBA), beginning a partnership that continues to this day.
“I came to the Clinton School and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to get out of the program,” Mathews said. “I knew I still wanted to be involved in campus food pantry work, but it wasn’t something I was thinking about much as a first-year student. After taking time to think and talk with some mentors, it just made sense – I have an opportunity to do something now. That’s how I started putting together the idea of doing this.”
Mathews focused his Capstone project at the Clinton School on developing a how-to manual for creating and operating food pantries on college campuses in Arkansas. It was during this time that he discovered CUFBA, a network of campus food pantries that created a manual of its own in 2011. Mathews joined the organization in April 2015 as its Associate Director of Campus Resources, a volunteer role, and began creating reports and analysis that utilized research but specialized in telling the story of what it means to be food insecure.
“In my time at the Food Bank what I saw happening was that people were coming to the food pantry because there’s a larger issue than food insecurity,” Mathews said. “There’s a lack of another resource in their life. This wasn’t just ‘I’m eating Ramen noodles tonight’ – they were withdrawing from their degree program because it was too costly for them to stay in school when they couldn’t eat.”
In October 2016, CUFBA released “Hunger on Campus: The Challenge of Food Insecurity for Students” with Mathews listed as one of the three primary authors. The publication tackled the different types of financial challenges faced by college students, explaining that a surprising number of college students live at or near the poverty level.
“That was our first big report that really helped shape what the challenge was for a student,” Mathews said. “We wanted to get a take on what it means to be food insecure: How many days do you go without eating? Do you skip meals? Are you dropping out of school?”
The report tackled the stereotype of the “traditional” college student – a recent high school graduate who lives in a dormitory and is supported by his or her parents. It noted that non-traditional students make up nearly three-quarters of the higher education market and that, on average, those non-traditional students face higher rates of food insecurity than their traditional counterparts. More than half of all first-generation college students reported being food insecure. Housing insecurity – which demonstrates a heavy overlap with food insecurity – was also greater among non-traditional students.
Taking it a step further, the report illustrated how food insecurity worsens negative impacts on a student’s education. More than half of the students reported choosing to buy food over a required textbook. Others reported missing classes or dropping a class as a result of food insecurity.
Mathews has since contributed to multiple CUFBA reports, including one that serves as a general toolkit for campuses looking to start their own food pantry and another geared specifically toward the different ways student government organizations can help.
When Mathews joined the organization in 2015, there were roughly 175 CUFBA food banks at colleges and universities across the country. Now, there are more than 700. The organization launched an interactive website in 2019 to help students connect with food pantries at their university or in their area.
The manual Mathews’ created for his Capstone project, the one that focused on establishing and operating food pantries on campuses in Arkansas, served as a launching point for multiple food pantries through joint efforts with the Arkansas Foodbank.
At UA Little Rock, Mathew’s manual helped create the Trojan Food Pantry for students, faculty, and staff. Participants receive a three-day supply of food when they visit.
"If it weren't for Brandon Mathews, we probably wouldn't have a campus food pantry at UALR right now,” said Bob Denman, who served as the university’s Vice Chancellor for Advancement for 15 years before retiring in 2016.
At Pulaski Technical College, now UA Pulaski Tech, Mathews helped connect the school’s existing food pantry with resources from the Arkansas Foodbank, which now helps support 13 campus pantries in the state.
Mathews eventually moved into a full-time role with the Arkansas Foodbank, starting as a Community Development Coordinator before transitioning into development as a Major Gift Officer. The part he enjoyed most, he said, was creating innovative programming geared toward fighting food insecurity.
“There’s an opportunity for the food bank to be a hub for other resources,” Mathews said. “You look at food banking and you’re seeing more and more food banks trying to address those issues and measure impact because providing food alone is not going to lower the amount of food insecure people.
“You can’t forget to take care of people now, but I think food banks are poised to help in making progress toward ending hunger and helping to solve a lot of the challenges that come with people being in food pantry lines.”
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