As colleges prepare to reopen this fall, Richland County Government wants to help students combat food insecurity, a problem the COVID-19 health crisis has exacerbated for many.

Richland County Council, along with the County’s Department of Government and Community Services (GCS), recognizes the importance of helping students combat food insecurity, or the lack of reliable access to affordable, nutritious food. To that end, the County is supporting the efforts of a grocery gift card drive to help colleges stock their on-campus food pantries.

“The fact that some of our local colleges and universities here in Richland County have food pantries on campus for students tells us that food insecurity is an issue that needs attention,” said Bryant Davis, assistant director of Richland County GCS.

The Columbia Food Policy Committee, a municipal group that works to address food system issues in the surrounding area, is hosting the gift card drive. Through a collaboration with area colleges, the committee found that many undergraduate and graduate students cannot easily access nutritious food.

An economic downturn from the pandemic has led to closings in the restaurant and retail industries, worsening the problem for students, many of whom rely on such jobs for income.
Residents are encouraged to mail grocery gift cards purchased from Food Lion and Publix to: Center of Leadership & Social Change, Columbia College, 1301 Columbia College Drive, Columbia, SC 29203. For questions about e-gift cards, email [email protected].

The donated gift cards will be evenly distributed among food pantries at five colleges and universities: Allen University, Benedict College, Columbia College and the undergraduate program at the University of South Carolina (UofSC), as well as UofSC’s School of Law. Students will be able to access the food pantries even if they do not live on campus because of COVID-19 or other reasons.

“Richland County Council has made it our goal to help support residents and businesses struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic downturn, so we are pleased to see similar efforts aimed at lifting up members of our community,” said Paul Livingston, Richland County Council chairman. “These gift cards will help students who are working hard to gain an education, which will allow them to give back and improve Richland County for years to come.”

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