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Working with Hennepin Technical College to improve student health

hennepin technical college student packing fresh food in a box

Packing fresh produce on campus at Hennepin Technical College. (Photo credit: Hennepin Technical College)

Surveys taken of Hennepin Technical College students in 2018 showed almost half experienced food insecurity. Food insecurity is not having enough food or nutritionally rich food to eat.

Since then, work by Hennepin Technical College students, staff, and leadership, with support from Hennepin County Public Health Promotion and other partners, has strengthened student food security. 

Food insecurity on campus

Since 1946 the National School Lunch Program has helped feed students in K-12 schools. Similar nutrition resources are not available in post-secondary schools. Post-secondary students, especially those at community colleges, are vulnerable to food insecurity.

Because of the 2018 survey results, Health Promotion staff Kassy Nystrom and Liliana Tobon-Gomez worked with Hennepin Technical College staff and students to conduct a needs assessment at Hennepin Technical College’s campuses in Brooklyn Park and Eden Prairie.

The assessment found that some students worked several jobs to support themselves and their families while in school, which could cause them to suffer academically. Also, food insecure students were more likely to be hungry during the school day, making it harder to learn. All of this stress hurt students' health and could even cause them to drop out of school.

One student said, “Students don’t worry about food, they worry about their education. We cannot afford it. After I use the money for school from my scholarship, there is not much left.”

Students also described having few affordable, nutritious food options on or near campus, with minimal public transportation to get food somewhere else between classes.  

Responding to food needs

The assessment found areas where improvements could be made to existing campus resources or new services could be added. Two new services included partnerships with Good in the ‘Hood and Kitchen Coalition.

Good in the 'Hood provides a monthly pop-up food shelf at each campus. Kitchen Coalition offers free, healthy, culturally appropriate prepared meals at the Brooklyn Park campus. These meals help busy students feed themselves and their families.

members of the hennepin technical college stand for a photo

Members of the Hennepin Technical College community working on food distribution. (Photo credit: Hennepin Technical College)

More recently in 2022, Hennepin County’s Office of Multicultural Services visited campus each week to help students access resources like SNAP. In early 2023, a new partnership with Health on the Go! Brooklyn Park allowed the Brooklyn Park campus to add a second monthly pop-up food shelf.

Thanks to the hard work of the partners involved, these resources have made an impact on the lives of hundreds of students over the past several years. Kassy with Health Promotion credits the commitment of the group leading food security at Hennepin Technical College: “The folks in the Hunger Free Task Force are warriors, and they have fought hard to make all of this happen.” 

What’s next: transportation

Health Promotion is beginning to work with Hennepin Technical College on another area that impacts student well-being: transportation. Limited transportation doesn't just impact students’ ability to get food. It also leads to longer commutes and makes it harder for them to get to jobs off-campus.

To get the work started, Kassy and Liliana have teamed up with colleague Denise Engen, who works to make active living (like public transit and walking and biking routes) safe and accessible. They are working with partners at Hennepin Technical College to come up with strategies to enhance student transportation connectivity.

Food and transportation are two of the many factors that shape health and well-being. Supporting students in these areas during school can set them up for better health for the rest of their lives.