After Dakeena McDowell earned her high school diploma last year at 33, she made getting an associate’s degree a priority.
But as soon as she set foot on the campus of Community College of Philadelphia (CCP), the realization of how much assistance she needed in other areas of her life to be successful in her next academic endeavor overwhelmed her.
McDowell needed help with her taxes. She needed help repairing her credit. She needed to buy clothes for interviews, and she even needed help finalizing her divorce. And, most importantly, she needed money that she didn’t have to address all those needs.
She found all of that — and more — when she stopped by the Single Stop office on the campus.
“Without Single Stop’s assistance I would be lost,” McDowell said, who received her high school diploma online. “When I first got on campus, I didn’t know where to turn with all of my outside issues. I’m so grateful they were there.”
Single Stop USA is a nonprofit delivering services to more than one million families nationwide. At CCP, it addresses a smorgasbord of issues by connecting students and their families to state, local and federal resources such as food stamps (SNAP) and TANF (cash assistance). It even feeds students daily.
Programs like Single Stop, which has been a CCP partner since 2013, have grown increasingly more common as two- and four-year colleges and universities have become more expensive. And, as costs rise, food and housing insecurity among college students has increased as well.
A study of 43,000 students at 60 institutions in 20 states and the District of Columbia earlier this year by The Hope Center for College, Community and Justice based at Temple University found that 47 percent of African-American college students at some point faced food insecurity over the last two years, which is to say they literally might not have known where their next meal was coming from.
“Imagine how difficult it is to have to sit through a lecture, to have to study when you are hungry,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, founding director of the Hope Center. “This is a pervasive problem that gets swept under the rug. It can’t be ignored because those challenges aren’t just going to go away for students.”
The study found that CCP students experienced more food insecurity (51 percent to 56 percent), housing insecurity (same) and more homelessness (14 percent to 19 percent) than the national average.
Temple fared better than other national universities in food insecurity (35 percent to 36 percent), housing insecurity (34 percent to 36 percent) and homelessness (7 percent to 9 percent).
Temple opened a food pantry in February and has noticed a significant uptick in the number it has served this semester as opposed to last spring.
“We are meeting an unmet need,” said Rachel Stark, dean of students at Temple.
At Community College of Philadelphia, Single Stop is preparing to unveil a new community garden staffed by student and faculty volunteers. The vegetables raised in the garden will be available to students dealing with food insecurity.
CCP also has implemented an option for employees to have funds withdrawn from their paychecks to support the food pantry.
“They’ve got everything covered,” McDowell said.
Single Stop reports having served over 9,210 CCP students and their families, connecting them to almost $22 million in benefits, tax refunds and supportive services since 2013.
“What we try to do is get all of the money on the table for students,” Program Director Paula Umana said. “Normally colleges don’t direct students to food stamps. We direct them to those support systems and we walk them through the paperwork.”