How we got $1 million for the MA Hunger Free Campus Initiative

In August, we won $1 million in state funding to help eliminate food insecurity on college campuses. Here’s how we did it.

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All students deserve to be able to devote their full energy to their studies, without having to worry about where their next meal is coming from. But the unfortunate reality is that the academic success of far too many students is being derailed by hunger – 1 in 3 public college and university students in Massachusetts are food insecure. Students are both the learners of today and the leaders of tomorrow, yet so many are struggling to redeem the opportunity that higher education provides as the priority of hunger takes precedence.

Growing up, I watched as the dreams of so many kids like myself were washed away because of food insecurity. Raised from humble roots, I saw how hunger can ravage the goals of aspiring students and leaders. Massachusetts can be a food secure state and we can break down the barriers that stand between bright young individuals and a college degree, including hunger. Our state has made some great strides on this front for K-12 students, but we know that hunger does not end after high school… and we know that there is more we can do.

As such, we launched a campaign in January 2023 with our statewide coalition to pass the Hunger Free Campus Initiative (“An Act establishing the Hunger Free Campus Initiative (S835 / H1293)”- a program that will provide a roadmap for the Department of Higher Education to address food insecurity at our public colleges and minority-serving institutions, while maximizing federal nutrition dollars by funding eligible institutions to expand resources like food pantries, food vendors that accept food stamps, and meal swipe donation programs.

First, we worked to get a bill introduced that would establish a Hunger Free Campus Initiative in Massachusetts. In partnership with the MA Hunger Free Campus Coalition, we worked with Senator Joan Lovely and Representative Andy Vargas to refile “An Act establishing the Hunger Free Campus Initiative (S835 / H1293)” in January 2023.

Then we did what we do best, we mobilized young people to build a grassroots movement around the bill – More than 1,000 students took action by signing our petition, making phone calls to their legislators, and writing letters. At the end of March, we held a statewide lobby day with our friends at the Hunger Free Campus Coalition and turned out over 60 students and community activists. MASSPIRG student leaders, including myself and Diego Maldonado, pictured below, hosted our welcome event at the State House, and in just one day, we met with over 30 legislative offices and got FIVE legislators to co-sponsor the bill.

Above: MASSPIRG students advocate for the Hunger Free Campus Initiative at the Massachusetts State House

Over the summer, we kept up a steady drumbeat of support to fund the Hunger Free Campus Initiative. As we progressed through the legislative session, we focused on securing further funding for the initiative in the FY24 state budget, a funding package that must pass every year. In that push we were able to obtain $1 million for combating food insecurity on college campuses – in no small part thanks to the work of student activists who submitted written testimony, made phone calls, wrote letters, and sent social media messages to their elected officials and the Governor’s office to demonstrate support.

In August, Governor Maura Healey signed the budget, establishing the $1 million in funding for the Hunger Free Campus Initiative – a huge step forward in addressing food insecurity on college campuses. 

That was a great start, but our work isn’t done. We can, and we must, do more to expand and make the Hunger Free Campus Initiative permanent. We’re calling on the Healey-Driscoll administration to include $4 million in next year’s budget, and we’re advocating to the Massachusetts legislature to pass the Hunger Free Campus Initiative bill (“An Act establishing the Hunger Free Campus Initiative (S835 / H1293)”, cementing the program into law. Hunger is a threat to the promise of an education that we make and the opportunity it provides. And with over 37% of college students facing food insecurity, we know solving it won’t be easy, but that it can, and it must, be done. By coming together, working with our elected officials, and continuing to display incredible grassroots support, we can eliminate food insecurity on college campuses… Together, we can make history in ending student hunger.

TAKE ACTION: Sign now in support of increased funding for the MA Hunger Free Campus Initiative!

JOIN THE COALITION: Want to join the coalition? Looking to start a Hunger-Free Campus chapter on your campus? Get involved with the MA Hunger Free Campus Coalition!

Sean Simonini, MASSPIRG Students Vice Chair

Sean is a student at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and is the vice chair for the MASSPIRG Students board of directors. As vice chair, Sean is responsable for overseeing the creation and approval of MASSPIRG’s annual budget, coordinating with student leaders across the state, and presenting at national conferences highlighting the work of youth in improving our world. Sean is also is the founder of the Massachusetts Association of Student Representatives (MASR), an organization that uplifts and empowers student representatives serving on local and state school boards across the Commonwealth