Students call for free, weekly grocery shuttle

Two campus groups are planning an initiative to help bring students to fresh food.

by Raj Chaduvula

Free rides to the grocery store could be in store for University of Minnesota students.
The Minnesota Student Association’s Infrastructure Committee wants to create a free shuttle that would take students from campus to the Quarry shopping center in Northeast Minneapolis to buy food — something health experts say is difficult near campus.
“There’s always been an initiative to get a grocery store on campus,” said Amogh Kambale, a committee member. But efforts through the University itself have proven too costly. 
So the committee looked to see whether it could help the Student Nutrition Advocacy Collaborative expand on the grocery store trips it had already organized in the past, Kambale said.
The grocery tours started almost two years ago, said Kathryn Kasner, adviser to SNAC as a health expert.
“[It was] a way to familiarize students to a local grocery store and highlight different healthy food options that they might not be aware of,” she said.
The tours cover health strategies and nutrition information for students, she said.
Kambale said the committee has been talking with SNAC to see if a similar system would be feasible and helpful for addressing University students’ health.
“There’s a lot of data that shows students struggle with healthy eating,” said Melissa Laska, a University of Minnesota public health professor.
But the TargetExpress in Dinkytown is changing the near-campus food environment, she said.
A Minneapolis ordinance adopted last year established a minimum amount of fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy and meat products grocery stores are required to stock.
But it can still be difficult for some students to buy healthy food, Laska said.
They’re entering a new phase in their life of potentially balancing heavier schoolwork and jobs, along with new financial issues, she said.
The 2015 College Student Health Survey has shown that one in six University students worry they will run out of food before they have money to get more.
“It was hard for me to find healthy food until I brought my car to campus,” said Patrick Meier, a chemical engineering junior. Meier lives near campus on 15th Avenue Southeast. 
Accessibility and costs are the biggest obstacles to finding healthy food, he said. 
“I can drive to the Quarry right now … but if I didn’t have my car it would be nearly impossible for me to find the right food for me within walking distance,” Meier said.
He said a shuttle system could help students get easier access to food. 
The committee talked with Parking and Transportation Services about the feasibility of the system, Kambale said.
“They said it is possible, but try and get funding,” he said.
PTS would use a First-Transit bus, similar to the Campus Connector, and take students every Saturday, Kambale said. 
Paying for the program would lie with MSA’s Infrastructure Committee or a third party, he said.
“The Infrastructure Committee has enough money for a few weeks, but that isn’t sustainable,” Kambale said.
The proposed shuttle route has multiple stops by several residence halls, he said.
He said it wouldn’t be difficult to show students struggle to eat healthily, especially considering the University area has been called a food desert, Kambale said.
“If we tried to conduct a survey on the interest of students, answer would be yes,” he said.