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Food Access on Campus: Reducing the Stigma

This article is a collaboration between University Health Services and the Dean of Students Office. 

Oftentimes, holidays center around community and food. While this may be a comforting and exciting time for some, it can be isolating and stressful for those with limited food access. Limited food access, or food insecurity, can impact a student’s overall wellbeing – including their mental health and academic performance. It’s an issue that affects more students at UW-Madison than some may think.  

Gwendolyn Kelly, UW-Madison Junior and Co-Executive Director of Slow Food UW states, “Though a common experience for many college students, the issue of food access is rarely acknowledged or discussed openly.” Making sure students have access to healthy and nutritious food takes all of us on campus building a community of care and support. Luckily, there are a variety of campus resources – including student-led organizations – whose mission is centered around eliminating stigma with food insecurity and ensuring everyone has access to the resources they need. 

Students at UW-Madison should never have to make the trade-offs between basic needs, like groceries, and important payments, like your tuition bill. The Badger FARE Program is a food support program that gives students $75 directly into their Wiscard account once a semester. The program supports students with long-standing or emergency needs, to make sure all students have access to healthy, enjoyable food. 

The Open Seat Food Pantry is another great resource that offers fresh produce and pantry staples to the student community – completely free; no identification needed, and no questions asked. “If you feel like you’re in need of this service, it’s here for you and we have no judgement,” says Nicole Giuliani, UW-Madison Junior and Outreach Director for The Open Seat. “All of the staff on the Open Seat team are super welcoming [and] super happy to help.”

The Open Seat – 333 East Campus Mall and Eagle Heights Community Center

East Campus Mall Hours, Room 3203 (fall 2022):

  • Mondays 4 – 8 PM
  • Wednesdays 10 – 12 PM
  • Fridays 12 – 4 PM

Eagle Heights Community Center Pick-Up (fall 2022): Fill out this form by Thursday at 12 PM for delivery on the following Wednesday 5 – 6 PM

Aside from helping students keep their pantry full, other student organizations, namely Slow Food UW, help break the stigma surrounding food insecurity by offering warm meals on a Pay What You Can model. “Our Pay What You Can program applies to everyone and we have it set up so attendees don’t need to show proof of payment,” shared Gwendolyn Kelley, UW-Madison Senior and Co-Executive Director of Slow Food UW. “We have a check-in table where we take a simple count of people as they come in. Here, attendees are welcome to pay in cash and we have information on our Venmo, but there is no one checking or asking how much individuals are contributing. Essentially, we hope that by not checking payments, attendees will feel more comfortable paying whatever they are able to, including opting for a free meal.” 

Slow Food UW – 1127 University Ave (The Crossing)

Family Dinner Nights (FDN): Mondays at 6:30 PM (Pay What You Can Model). Includes appetizer, main dish, and dessert that highlight seasonal ingredients sourced from local farmers.

Café: Wednesdays between 12 PM and 2 PM (Affordably Priced). Items served a la carte.

If you are unsure of where your next meal may come from, are facing an empty pantry, or just feel like you don’t have enough food to feel your best, know that campus is here to support you without judgement. Starting the conversation with those around you can be a great way to break the stigma and receive the support that you need. Nicole at The Open Seat Food Pantry shared, “In any way we can, we love to just support the community with zero questions asked ever.” 

The Badger FARE Program, The Open Seat, and Slow Food UW are not the only systems of support on campus for students experiencing food insecurity. The UW–Madison Food Recovery Network, F.H. King, the Keep Food Pantry, and the Campus Food Shed are also useful resources for students in need. 

The Dean of Students Office also provides assistance directly to students in need. Students can connect with the office by drop-in appointment, phone at 608-263-5700, or email at For more about food access resources, scroll down to Resources and Support on the Dean of Students webpage.