CORVALLIS, Ore. ― Oregon State University has become one of only a handful of universities with a store that can accept federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cards.
The university’s Cascadia Market was approved to accept SNAP cards in August, but waited until Jan. 6 to begin accepting the cards to work out details for how it would accept the payments, said Tara Sanders, a nutritionist with University Housing & Dining Services. Last week the university announced the change to take SNAP cards, the aid program that replaced food stamps.
Sanders said University Housing & Dining Services has been working on being able to accept SNAP since shortly after Cascadia Market, in the International Living-Learning Center, opened in the fall of 2010.
Sanders said that in order to accept SNAP, a store has to carry a variety of “staple foods” such as grains, protein, fresh fruits and vegetables and dairy products. She said those requirements have prevented most other universities from having markets that can accept SNAP.
“It’s hard for smaller stores on campus to meet those criteria because they don’t have the space to stock them,” she said.
Cascadia, however, is larger than typical campus markets, with roughly 1,100 square feet of retail space.
Sanders said no changes were required to Cascadia’s offerings to meet the SNAP requirements.
“The goal of the store is to offer healthy staple foods; we have plenty of other convenience options available elsewhere on campus,” she said.
Sanders said she’s been a liaison between different parts of the university through the process of applying for SNAP. One initial hold-up was that the point of sale terminals wouldn’t accept SNAP. But officials were able to develop a workaround, and now the market now has a mobile card scanner just for SNAP sales.
She said offering SNAP sales on campus is a way to make food more easily accessible to students on or near campus.
“We wanted to have a location that was convenient. We wanted students to be able to use SNAP while on campus,” she said.
OSU also has an emergency food pantry run in association with Linn Benton Food Share, and Mealbux grants, which give qualifying students campus cash that can be used with their ID card at vendors across campus. According to OSU, the food pantry served nearly 3,000 students between June 2014 and July 2015. Nearly 2,200 students used Mealbux in the same time.
Sanders referenced a 2014 OSU study of students at Western Oregon University that showed that 59 percent of surveyed students had experienced food insecurity in the previous year. She said those results give an idea of what food issues Oregon university students can face.
“We all have the image of the starving student relying on Top Ramen to get through their schooling. We know that exists anecdotally,” she said.
For students, she said, financial pressures can affect their access to healthy foods.
“Food and nutrition are often sacrificed when there are so many other things requiring your money,” she said.
She said nutrition is an important factor of health, which has an impact on how students perform.
“You are more likely to be successful if you are healthy,” she said.
On Tuesday morning, Sanders said the market had only had one SNAP payment since it officially began accepting the cards. But she said officials will now begin the process of letting students know they can use SNAP at the market through channels such as outreach at the OSU food pantry. The expectation is that SNAP sales will go up as word gets out about it.
It’s a sort of “if we build it, they will come” situation, she said.
“It feels good on a lot of levels,” she said. “We now have an additional resource for students.”