Between 2018 and 2019, a survey released to students at Virginia Tech allowed researchers to see how many students on campus were dealing with low food security. The study showed 29% of undergraduate students and 35% of graduate students fell under the low food security umbrella. Since then, Virginia Tech has introduced a number of resources to help these students.
Mehul and Hema Sanghani, who are alumni of Virginia Tech, made a donation of $1.5 million in 2019 which helped fund the first pilot program of The Market.
“The first version was amazing, and the students loved it,” said Kas Church, assistant director for Food Access Initiatives at VT Engage. “It was something like a Blue Apron model where the students would receive a box of prepackaged ingredients and a series of recipe cards that went along with them.”
The second pilot of the program worked with Virginia Tech dining services to provide two bags of pre-packaged groceries to students. Included in the bags were produce and the students’ choice of protein.
“From there finally came version three in August 2021, when we finally got ourselves a permanent location,” Church said.
The Market is located at 801 University City Blvd next to the Math Emporium.
“We tried to model it to feel like a market front where students can come in; they get to browse the produce options, the non-perishables and the deli case up front,” Church said. “So it's really meant to be a market where we don't use a token system, and we don’t check people’s bags.”
Church estimated The Market has provided 14,000 meals to students and reports around 115 students come into The Market a week to get their meals.
“The last I pulled the numbers, it was 63% of our students are international graduate students,” Church said. “Many of our international students might be coming with a family, or the very least a spouse, so (we’re) trying to do some work with the Graduate Professional Student Senate, Cranwell (International Center), and the graduate school to really talk about the needs of our graduate students and our international students with regards to food access and basic needs.”
In the coming years, Church hopes The Market can continue to make positive changes within the community, and potentially even double their operations.
“I would love to see us serve double the number of meals, double the number of people,” Church said. The Market is also working on expanding its reach beyond its University City Boulevard location.
“We're trying to get creative with ways we can serve students. So this fall we're launching something called Pocket Markets,” Church said. “It’s an opportunity for us to partner with academic departments and student affairs departments to really identify a bookshelf, a file cabinet, an old supply closet, some space, and we're working with them to stock that space with non-perishable food items that students can access within those different departments.”
The goal of The Market is to provide students experiencing food insecurity with whole meals and support.
“I would tell students that food insecurity is more common than they may think, and that many college students will experience some level of food insecurity, or any person might experience some level of food insecurity at some point in their life,” Church said. “I would want to know them, (and for) them to know that there is help available.”
The Market accepts private donations and food drive contributions to help keep the store running. More information on The Market and its services can be found on The Market’s webpage or by reaching out to the Dean of Students office.