By Daniel Strawhun, A&E Editor
College students are notoriously poor, and they are becoming poorer every year. Because of ever-increasing tuition rates and textbook prices (which, lacking any proper causal explanation, can only be interpreted as extortionate and exploitative), as well as the fact that most unskilled labor is valued at or near minimum wage, living below the poverty line while completing one’s studies has become a cultural rite of passage in the U.S.
Thus it should come as no surprise that “1 in 5 students are [sic] experiencing hunger,” as the promotional posters for the University of Missouri–St. Louis’ “Add a Dollar” campaign state. The campaign, which was started last year by the Student Social Services department, seeks to ameliorate food insecurity among UMSL students through the solicitation of $1 donations. Customers at any Sodexo-run campus dining location (i.e., all campus dining locations, with the exception of Subway) can add $1 to the total of their bill; the donated dollars are then deposited into something called the “Triton Hunger Relief Fund.”
What should come as a surprise (or maybe not, depending on one’s level of cynicism) is the way in which the Student Social Services has decided to disburse the donations. Rather than purchasing gift cards from local grocery stores or buying large quantities of food at wholesale prices and donating them to the various food pantries on campus, the Student Social Services has decided that it will only purchase campus dining dollars (i.e., Sodexo bucks) with the money raised from the campaign. This means that every donation made to the Add a Dollar campaign is, in essence, a once-removed donation to Sodexo.
There are a number of obvious problems with this arrangement. First of all, Sodexo is a huge multinational corporation. According to the company’s 2016 financial report, it earned over €2 billion in total revenue and €721 million in group net profit in one year alone. The idea of collecting donations from students to be exclusively allocated to such a wealthy corporation is preposterous. At the very least, Sodexo ought to be matching every donation that students make, preferably dollar-for-dollar. If matched donations are out of the question, the fundraising partnership with Sodexo should cease to exist.
Encouraging poor students to raise money for other even poorer students and then agreeing to donate the money exclusively to Sodexo without even so much as negotiating a matched-donation agreement from the multibillion-dollar company is negligent, naïve, and to be quite frank, extremely stupid. In its current form, the Help a Triton campaign benefits Sodexo much more than it benefits the students it is purported to help.
A soberer, more logical approach would be to allow students who qualify to receive money from the Triton Hunger Relief Fund to choose how they would like the money to be paid out. Sodexo’s food, which is both expensive and unhealthy (not to mention unpalatable), may not be the first choice for many self-respecting, health-conscious students who suffer from food insecurity. Furthermore, the irregular, inconvenient hours of operation of Sodexo’s dining locations make dining dollars even more impractical and unappealing. An effort should be made to give students the greatest autonomy and freedom of choice with regards to the funds they receive from the Triton Hunger Relief Fund. Instead, students are given only two options: eat at Sodexo or go hungry. And since the donations are converted directly into dining dollars, Sodexo becomes richer regardless of what the students’ choose, all while contributing absolutely nothing to the Triton Hunger Relief Fund itself.