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Food for Economic Success

The elimination of food insecurity at colleges through "food scholarships" and enhance economic mobility and opportunity.

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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Middlesex Community College Foundation

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Other

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Middlesex Community College-faculty and staff and students, Connecticut Food Bank-staff, City of Middletown, CT-Mayor, Middlesex Community College Foundation-Chair, City of Meriden, CT-Public Health Director, Middlesex United Way-CEO, and Newman's Own Foundation-staff.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

mxcc.edu/foundation

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Middletown

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Primarily Middlesex County in Connecticut with about 1,140 km^2 and also portions of New Haven County and Hartford County

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The place selected is the primary 18-town service area of Middlesex Community College (MxCC). The majority of MxCC students come from this service area. My MxCC colleagues and I have been working in this service area for almost 20 years creating and sustaining partnerships, leveraging funding opportunities, and enhancing support services to help students achieve their career goals and become globally concerned citizens.

Middletown, Connecticut, the second largest community in the service area, is home to the main campus of MxCC. Middletown, home to Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, has a population of 50,000 and a poverty rate (2013-2017) of 11.3% which exceeds the county rate of 7.2% and the state average of 10.1%. The household median income is $63,914 vs. $81,673 for the county and $73,781 for the state.  Originally a busy sailing port and then an industrial center, it is now largely residential with its downtown—mainly Main Street—serving as a popular retail, dining, and bar district somewhat close to Wesleyan University.  Middletown is considered the southernmost city in the Hartford-Springfield Knowledge Corridor Metropolitan Region.

Middletown has a diverse collection of foodservice establishments, has many community colleges and college students, and is receptive to addressing food insecurity. Middletown has the largest Chamber of Commerce in the state, the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce, a local Amazing Grace Food Pantry, and a dynamic Middlesex United Way. MxCC has many, many partnerships with organizations in our service area that can assist in addressing food insecurity.

Middletown just elected a 27-year-old Wesleyan University graduate, Ben Florsheim.  Mayor Florsheim previously worked for the U.S. Senator Murphy and has coordinated visits and a workshop on food insecurity at MxCC for Sen. Murphy.  Mayor Florsheim has been briefed on our project, agreed to participate, and provides annual grant funding for the Magic Food Bus (MFB).

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Living in Middletown offers residents a suburban feel and most residents own their homes. In Middletown, there are a lot of restaurants and parks. Many young professionals live in Middletown and residents tend to be liberal. Middletown hosts MxCC and Wesleyan University which brings a very diverse and young group of people in a community with a dynamic downtown along the Connecticut River. MxCC represents a primary service area of 18 towns.  About 48% of the MFB shoppers are from Middletown.

The largest community in the MxCC service area is the City of Meriden. Located in New Haven County, Meriden has a population of 59,864, with 29% identifying as Hispanic or Latino, 10% Black, and 73% White. The poverty rate of 10.8% exceeds the state average of 10.1%MxCC has a satellite facility at Platt High School... We will make an effort to include Meriden Latino student representation on our project team.  About 23% of the MFB shoppers are from Meriden. 

MxCC was awarded $4.5 million of a 7-year, $25,802,971 million GEAR UP grant from the US Department of Education. MxCC will work with Meriden students starting in 7th grade through their first year of college.  The Gear UP grant will be matched with an additional $4.5 million of in-kind resources with a value of over $9 million.  Specific strategies include: mentoring, tutoring, dual-enrollment courses, college financing workshops, summer bridge programs, information literacy instruction, SAT Prep, college visits, and college scholarships. MxCC has a strong long term partnership with the City of Meriden.

Wallingford with a population of 44,964 is the third-largest in the college service area and is adjacent to Meriden along Interstate 91. Our Connecticut Food Bank partner is located in Wallingford.

Our service area includes all of Middlesex County, including smaller towns along the Connecticut shoreline: Old Saybrook (9,212), Westbrook (7,079), and Clinton (12,256).  These communities are more affluent, primarily white, have larger summer populations, but are not exempt from food insecurity. 

Lyman Orchards, a significant family-operated apple orchard, golf course, corn maze, and retail outlet and restaurant is located in Middlefield (population 4,393).  Middlesex County has 441 farms, a 15% drop since 2012.

College students tend to prioritize budget and convenience when making food choices.  Experts say eating poorly as a youth can lead to health issues later in life, such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and eye disease. Our approach provides more fresh fruits and vegetables.  Students prioritize when making food-related decisions based on time and money.  Our approach greatly reduces the money factor as well as the time factor by having the majority of food available on-campus and helps eliminate “predatory marketing” from grocery stores. Our college target population will experience “healthy eating habits” at a pivotal age (average age 27) that should provide long-term benefits with protein from vegetable sources.

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

298237

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Last year, in the state with the highest per capita income, the MFB food pantry experienced a 68% growth in food demand. Two recent studies report pervasive levels of food insecurity and housing insecurity (the struggle to pay rent, mortgages, or utilities) among students at two- and four-year institutions. The first and largest of the studies, Hunger on Campus: The Challenge of Food Insecurity for College Students, analyzed responses from nearly 3,800 students from thirty-four community colleges and four-year institutions in twelve states. The second study, Struggling to Survive – Striving to Succeed: Food and Housing Insecurities in the Community College, surveyed 3,647 California community college students. Both studies reported that insecurities were more common with students of color (especially African-American students) and can have widespread educational consequences. Hunger on Campus reported that insecurities were also more common among community college and first-generation students and caused students to skip classes, withdraw from courses, or opt-out of buying required textbooks. In addition, Struggling to Survive found that food insecure students were more likely to plan on dropping out. Three-quarters of students with food insecurity also experienced housing insecurity (AC&U News, January/February 2017). Since food insecurity is closely linked to hosing insecurity, we will also measure how our efforts also reduced housing instability. A recent study by the Conn. Coalition to End Homelessness for the CT State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) system showed that 17.5 % of CSCU students surveyed reported housing instability or homelessness.

Trellis Company’s latest research, ‘Studying on Empty: A Qualitative Study of Low Food Security Among College Students,’ followed 72 college students for nine months to monitor the effects of low food security and the influence food challenges have on academic performance and found that students who struggle with food security often face hard choices in how to allocate their scarce time and often are forced to neglect academic work in order to obtain more steady access to food.

Doyle and Zakrajsek (2013) tell students: “Showing up to class without proper sleep and exercise and without nourishing or hydrating your brain will cause your brain to operate less efficiently and make learning much more difficult”. It doesn’t matter how meaningful and engaging the classroom experience might be, if students are hungry, they can’t concentrate; they can’t learn. 

The FES vision connects environment (natural garden and local regional food bank), diet (healthy produce component and healthy eating handouts), economics (low-cost food, cost savings for students, and college degree for employment), culture (food education, social media, award drawings, student-produced food from our garden), technology (social media, radio, video) and policy (food summit with reporting to Connecticut legislature and U.S. Senator Murphy).

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

MxCC is the only community college with a campus-based mobile food pantry in an actual bus, the MFB, as well as an onsite garden providing produce to students.  The MFB operates a satellite food pantry at Platt High School for evening students.  This unique food operation is order-based, students select food choices from an order form, which is then transmitted to the Middletown campus and delivered the next day.

MxCC has developed a model called the Food for Economic Success Project (FES Project),  designed to address the upstream and downstream effects of food insecurity as it relates to education, financial literacy, housing, health, and workforce development. Focusing on education, MxCC has partnered with the Connecticut Food Bank to provide 300 food scholarships to students based on their financial aid status. The pilot FES Project provides students access up to 120 pounds of food each month at the MFB, 50% of which is produce.  Students participating in the food scholarship program have access to nutritious food to offset meal gaps, stay enrolled in their program, and graduate with their degree—all of which would greatly decrease their likelihood of being food-insecure post-graduation. Our approach is a sustainable model for eliminating food insecurity at the community college level with an estimated cost per capita, leveraging regional resources, replicable, broadens the conversation on economic mobility and degree completion, and helps shift the public discourse on food insecurity.  The FES Project helps transform the misconception of a “hand out” to a “hand up” based on academic and health data outcomes. Many MxCC students have children of their own. In 2018 the MFB served 560 students and reached 1,525 family members. Our project will also greatly improve health and transform the lives of many student’s family members.

We will remove food insecurity from the most vulnerable students, about 50% or 300, of those students with full Pell Grant financial assistance, provide “food scholarships”, offer healthier food,  and measure the expected improvement in academic performance, retention, persistence, retention, and graduation. This should provide more economic mobility and opportunity for the cohort.

The FES Project will conduct a randomized control trial and compare academic success rates of our trial group with the other 50% of the neediest Pell Grant recipients. The trial group will also be compared with MxCC overall academic success rates and those of community college students nationwide. The vision for the FES Program is to provide a sustainable and long-lasting (through 2050) food future for underprivileged community college students struggling with food insecurity by conducting rigorous research (with the help of our collaborators i.e. Dr. Paul Carmichael, Director of Institutional Research) to investigate the effect of our program and engage in continuous improvement.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

We envision a community college where no one goes hungry.

“What is the purpose of higher education?” If we believe that a college degree is going to help families break the cycle of poverty, improve their economic mobility, and quality of life, why would we not do everything possible to support their success? We cannot food bank our way out hunger, but when we couple it with education degrees and support services, we can make it much less likely to be a reality in the student’s future.

Shoppers (food pantry users) should derive several health benefits from having 50% of their monthly food coming from produce (vegetables, fruits) and a portion from the MxCC Veteran's Memorial Natural Garden. These healthier food options should reduce overall obesity and diabetes, improving the overall health compared to the current levels.

According to a recent report by the Institute for College Access and Success, Connecticut graduates in 2018 had the highest average student debt upon graduation among all 50 states, at $38,650. While not a primary goal of FES Project, removing food insecurity and the associated food costs should also reduce student debt.

The unique FES Project embodies diversity, reaching 59 communities currently and eventually will reach all 169 communities in our state, then hopefully replicated at many community colleges nationwide and engaging people from multiple communities and backgrounds in our work. We are an open and inclusive organization that welcomes, respects and values all people. Diversity strengthens our organization, so we take responsibility for attracting supporters with diverse identities and life experiences. When we seek out, recognize and cultivate diversity within FES Project, we create an enriched and more inclusive environment. Ultimately, it is our collective wisdom that enables us to achieve our goals with creativity and compassion. Removing food insecurity for a majority of the 13 million students at community colleges can be achieved.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

The sustainable FES Project is designed to address the upstream and downstream effects of food insecurity related to education, financial literacy, housing, health, and workforce development. Focusing primarily on education, MxCC has partnered with the Connecticut Food Bank to provide 300 food scholarships to students based on their financial aid status. The pilot program provides students access to 120 pounds of food each month at the MFB including 50% produce. Students participating in the food scholarship program will have access to nutritious food to offset any meal gaps, stay enrolled in their program, and graduate with their degree—all of which would greatly decrease their likelihood of being in a food pantry post-graduation. The FES Project approach is a model for eliminating food insecurity at the community college level.

The research design will focus on recruiting and educating eligible students, surveying their attitudes and opinions before and after, tracking academic progress. Hypotheses will be tested using both quantitative and qualitative data. The FES project will be a randomized controlled trial (RCT).

The FES Project will focus on social media to recruit students with the assistance of the Financial Aid Department, Enrollment Services Department and the Director of Student Activities. The student cohort will be sustained through assistance from the project educational assistant, the Academic Success Center, the Counseling Department, the Director of Student Activities, targeted social media, e-mail communication, human service interns, student workers, and targeted faculty. Students will receive healthy eating tips periodically during the project through their student mail accounts, establish online check-in benchmarks throughout the project, and award drawings. The MxCC Center for New Media will develop innovative social media communications that include:  QR codes, video chats, Facebook contests, tweeting behind the scenes, and You-Tube video series. The Center for New Media will also highlight the voices of individuals facing food insecurity and their successes with a capstone project video, and also featured on the MxCC local college radio program.

MxCC will provide substantial in-kind support for recruitment, surveys, data collection and reporting to make the project highly successful and within budget. Recruitment will begin Sept. 2020 and continue through December 2020. We anticipate beginning the “food scholarships” in late January 2021 through mid-May 2022. Project data will be reviewed and draft reporting completed by mid-July 2022 and the final report to be completed by August 30.

Both qualitative data (using interviews, focus groups, and surveys) and quantitative data (including the use of descriptive inferential statistics) will be collected and analyzed.  The FES Project will have a control group of approximately 332 students and a treatment group of 300.  We will also control for selection bias. 

Surveys will be developed and implemented at the onset and at the end of the project to identify the effect of FES Project on academic success and health. We will use infographics to display data and also use a dashboard graphic presentation format for results that presents data by racial identity.  The infographics will be posted on the college website and presented to the project team and management. We will analyze data, by racial identity for: food insecurity, academic performance (ordinary least squares), persistence, retention, graduation (survival model), home instability, health, and compare these results to our latest overall student data. MxCC will attempt to replicate the FES Project across the other 11 community colleges in Connecticut and advocate for sufficient funding through a modest increase in the student activities fee dedicated to food insecurity.  These community colleges have already expressed enthusiasm for this collaboration.

A preliminary report will be presented at the annual System-Wide Conference in late April 2020. MxCC will also hold a state-wide food summit at MxCC for the 12 community colleges and four state universities food pantries and student leaders to discuss our preliminary results, engage a speaker regarding college food insecurity and have the co-chairs of the higher education committee address the group.  MxCC has been working closely and providing food insecurity data with the Co-Chair of the Connecticut legislature’s Higher Education Committee, Rep. Haddad, who fully supports this project, and will be sent the project final summary for legislation to address college food insecurity statewide at publicly funded institutions. MxCC has also been working with United States Senator Chris Murphy.  Sen. Murphy recently toured our MFB and Veteran’s Memorial Garden, held a student food workshop on campus last fall, produced a report on housing and food insecurity, and will be sent the final report.

The FES Project's primary focus will be with Middletown and Meriden, which comprise about 71% of our shoppers. Newman’s Own Foundation will be a project partner and has funded the MFB previously. The Connecticut Food Bank, a project partner, has had a strong relationship with MxCC and the City of Middletown has provided funding for over four years for the MFB. The City of Meriden has been providing block grant funding to MxCC for years, is the site of our satellite MFB facility, and the Health Director will be a project team member. The CEO of the Middlesex County United Way will also be a project team member. The CEO chairs the MxCC Regional Advisory Council, a long time MxCC Foundation Corporator, has supported the MFB, and has extensively worked with MxCC in the area of Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) individuals, and reaches all of Middlesex County. The MxCC Foundation Chair will be a project team member and brings extensive experience through her work with the Salvation Army in Meriden. The MxCC Coordinator of the MFB (in-kind project coordinator) and the Director of Student Activities will also serve on the team along with eight student members, bringing the total project team to 16 members. Equal representation of students assures we will be informed by the people most engaged in the project and agency/municipal members ensure strong community roots and creation of a constant feedback loop.

The FES Project will receive staffing support through a part-time educational assistant, and human service interns, and student workers. The total value of MxCC, the Middlesex United Way, and the Connecticut Food Bank in-kind support is over $30,000.  

Supplies will consist of the “food scholarships” through the Connecticut  Food Bank of 120 lbs. of food per month (50% produce and perishables provided free), about $13 per month per student for 316 students and will be supplemented through the Veteran’s Memorial Garden and campus food drives. Budget allocations include: the Connecticut Food Bank for technical assistance and logistics, a trip for two project personnel to another food bank and community college that have a strong food partnership, funding for the addition of six raised beds in the Veteran’s Memorial Natural Garden for produce production,  two large commercial refrigerators for produce and perishables (we do not have available refrigeration), marketing graphics, a mid-project workshop for the cohort, funds for participant compliance awards, funds for the MxCC Center for New Media for video and social media content and strategy. MxCC will also host the first Connecticut College Food Summit for the 17 higher education units of the system and Wesleyan University, with invites to the Connecticut Legislative Co-Chairs of the Higher Education Committee, Rep. Haddad, State Sen. Haskell, and U.S. Senator Chris Murphy to speak on a panel.

 The FES Project goal is to reach a substantial portion of the 1,132 community colleges in the United States with 13 million students.  Our approach aligns nicely into the national Achieving the Dream Network (we are a member) framework for reducing the equity gap among our students and within our community. By 2050, MxCC will have eliminated food insecurity in our service area and throughout 17 college system in Connecticut, have a fully-developed natural garden producing a substantial amount of healthy food options for students and their families, and continuing a strong partnership with the Connecticut Food Bank to meet food needs, boosting graduation rates, and keeping graduates out of community food pantries. Using MxCC as a best-practice model, a goal is that before 2050, community colleges and 4-year colleges nationwide implement a comparable model for eliminating food insecurity, boosting academic success, and offering healthier food options with their local food bank partnerships. 

Since food insecurity is closely aligned with homelessness, we would also expect a reduction in student homelessness.  The healthy produce provided should reduce diabetes and perhaps obesity.  Locally grown food provided on campuses reduces transportation and is healthier for the entire food system and the environment.

The FES Project model also operates with a reduced carbon footprint, regional food bank support, and minimal additional higher education funding, a healthier and more sustainable approach to eliminating college food insecurity.  The FES Project is transformative, community-rooted, and inspirational.  The compelling and progressive approach leverages local and regional existing resources and engages other “visionaries” to act “as revolutionary as patriots” at the local level and think globally. The Rockefeller Foundation and funding partners should “hop on” our Magic Food Bus, keep the wheels moving, and enjoy a magical transformative ride!

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Veteran's Garden with Donor Signs.jpg

Some of the donor signs that helped offset the costs of establishing the 7,000 sq. ft. Veteran's MemorialNatural Garden.

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Thank you so much for the Food Extension Initiative.

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