Food Insecurity in Middlesex County: a partnership with the Middlesex Coalition for Children by Michael Force ’21

Since 2005, every 5 years Wesleyan University has assisted the Middlesex Coalition for Children (MCC) with their Middletown child hunger survey. The Middlesex Coalition for Children’s mission is to improve the lives of children growing up in Middletown and Middlesex County. In December 2020, students in the QAC381 service-learning course conducted the quantitative survey, and found a considerable increase in food insecurity in Middletown as a result of the covid-19 pandemic. The purpose of my Engaged Project is to augment the quantitative survey results with qualitative data obtained from focus group participants assessing the impact of covid-19 on families’ food security, and to learn more about use of federal, state, and city hunger relief programs during this time. Results of this study may be used by MCC to maintain hunger and food insecurity programs currently in place, and to propose new solutions to assist Middletown families with their food needs.

The goals for this project are to 1) work in conjunction with Professor Rose, the Middlesex Coalition for Children and the QAC381 students currently analyzing the data from the 2020 online MCC hunger survey to design and conduct focus groups with 20 parents of students in Middletown schools, and 2) analyze and summarize the data from the focus groups. The results of this focus group study will be presented to the MCC in a Zoom meeting at the end of the semester, and a written final report summarizing the focus group results will be provided to the MCC.

Sponsor: Jennifer Rose

Student reflection excerpt:

This was a humbling experience. Coming from someone who has struggled with food insecurity first hand, I know this is something that is hard to talk about and I commend all the participants. Without them we would not be able to continue to fight this food crisis. With the information and stories learned we were able to paint a broader picture of what the food insecurity issue looks like in Middletown, CT. We will present this information to the Middletown Coalition for Children in hopes of making healthy food more accessible.

Food insecurity is something that I will always be passionate about. I intend to donate my time and efforts to fighting food insecurity beyond just this class. I do not know to what capacity yet, but I do know I will never turn a blind eye to food insecurity, especially when it comes to children.

Instructor reflection:

I am impressed by the thoughtfulness and courage you showed in your leadership of this project. You understood your positionality as researchers, and you embraced that rather than ignored it. I believe in the process of “learning by doing,” and it seems that’s exactly what you were able to achieve here. Not only did you learn objective information about hunger in Middletown, but you also absorbed personal stories and found a way to analyze and present them for the greater good. I hope you will be able to take the mindsets and methods that you learned through this Engaged Project and put it to use in other settings in the future.