A guide to student food and housing security resources at Penn State

Penn State offers resources and support for students facing financial challenges, including housing and food insecurity
Food and housing security at Penn State

Penn State offers a range of services to assist students who are experiencing food and housing insecurity.

Credit: Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As part of a University-wide network of support, Penn State offers a range of services to assist students who are experiencing food and housing insecurity. Whether facing a one-time financial issue or dealing with a long-term challenge, students at every campus can access a range of resources, including campus food pantries, assistance with SNAP benefits, emergency funds and housing grants, a nutrition clinic, budgeting help and more.

Nationally, college students are increasingly experiencing food and housing insecurity, which can have academic, social and emotional consequences.

“The welfare of our students is the University’s most elemental concern, and we are determined to address their basic needs wherever we can,” said Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs. “A student who struggles to afford food or housing is less likely to succeed, but the University resources in place to respond to these needs are many, and the staff members providing them at every campus are caring, sensitive and knowledgeable. I hope every student who faces these challenges will give us the chance to help.”

Food and housing insecurity is often an unseen challenge and can look different for everyone. For some, food and housing insecurity can mean:

  • Skipping or stretching meals.
  • Having limited access to nutritious food.
  • Being uncertain about where the next meal will come from.
  • Being unable to pay rent, moving around frequently and living with others due to financial strain.
  • Becoming homeless, including due to a safety concern.

If you have experienced one of the above, or another challenge with accessing basic resources, the University encourages you to learn more about the resources that are available and to reach out for support. 

The following offers additional information about support at Penn State:


Who can I talk to if I have questions or am unsure about my need?

If you need help — or if you are uncertain about your needs — reach out for support. There are staff members at every campus who are available to assist you, and there is no judgment if you are experiencing hardship.

Do I qualify for support services?

The best way to understand if you qualify for a resource is to contact the service or office at Penn State. If you are unsure about the best office to reach out to, students at every campus can call or email Student Care and Advocacy, and staff will help connect you with the appropriate office or resource at your campus as well as public assistance resources.

For some services, such as receiving a grant from the Student Emergency Fund or accessing SNAP benefits, there is an application process and qualification guidelines. However, you should reach out if you have questions because staff can help you understand if you qualify and may be able to connect you with other resources as well. In many cases, staff also can help you complete the application process, which can sometimes be confusing to navigate.

Can I get help anonymously? Will my instructors, parents or friends know?

The University strives to make accessing resources as private and seamless as possible. While staff will always do their best to uphold your privacy and protect your personal information, accessing resources cannot always be anonymous. To best support you, staff manage complex needs through a coordinated team effort and communicate with more than one office or department on your behalf to connect you with the appropriate resources. While staff might share information with other Penn State offices on a “need to know” basis, staff members will not communicate with your instructors, parents or friends about your situation.

How can I help a student who I believe is struggling with food or housing insecurity?

If you are concerned about a student who may be facing financial difficulties, there are resources available to help you recognize when a student may be distressed, show concern and provide support.


Where can I access food-related assistance or resources?

There are a variety of food, meal and grocery resources available at the University.

All campuses:

  • SNAP: College students may be eligible for expanded SNAP eligibility if they qualify for a work-study work program (even if not participating) and have an expected family contribution of $0 on their federal student aid determination.
  • Project Cahir: Can provide up to $100 on your on-campus meal plan account or LionCash+ account for assistance with food purchases. Students can also request pre-packaged toiletries and textbook assistance.
  • Student Emergency Fund: Provides short-term financial assistance to students who are struggling with debilitating financial circumstances of an unforeseen nature.
  • Free Nutrition Clinic: Students can schedule a free appointment with a registered dietitian who can help with designing a nutritious meal plan within limited financial resources.

University Park/State College area:


How do I use Lion’s Pantry or the food pantry at my campus?

It’s easy to access food and other items at campus pantries. While you will need to show your Penn State student ID, staff and student volunteers are there to offer support, if needed, and will respect your privacy.

Keep in mind that each Penn State campus food pantry has its own processes. Depending on your campus, generally students can either visit during hours of operation to browse and choose food items, pick up a pre-filled bag of food and other items at a specified location, and/or pick up a pre-loaded gift card to a local store.

While the Lion’s Pantry at University Park is undergoing renovations this fall, students can continue to access pantry services via:

How can I eat nutritiously with limited financial resources?

Penn State offers recipes and tools to help you cook and eat healthy meals on a budget. In addition, students at any campus can schedule a free appointment with a registered dietitian through Student Affairs and/or Housing and Food Services who can help with designing a nutritious meal plan within limited financial resources.

The University also is continuing to make enhancements to campus pantries to support student’s nutritional needs. For example, the Lion’s Pantry at University Park will begin offering fresh, perishable produce and dairy items later this semester.


What should I do if I’m dealing with an immediate or emergency housing situation?

Whether you live on campus and need housing during a semester break, unexpectedly or temporarily no longer have a place to stay off campus, or are leaving an unsafe living situation, there are options available. For an emergency housing need, students are encouraged to reach out to the Center for Community Resources, which offers a 24/7 support and referral helpline. In an emergency, always call 911 or Penn State Police at your campus. Students at every campus can call or email Student Care and Advocacy (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) for additional information.

Is there support available when leaving an unsafe living situation?

If you have experienced dating or relationship violence and need to leave an unsafe situation, the University offers housing accommodations, along with a range of academic, employment, medical care, emotional support and advocacy services for victims. Staff in the Gender Equity Center (open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) can help provide safety planning, emotional support, and connection to resources and staff in the Office of Sexual Misconduct, Prevention and Response can help students at every campus navigate living arrangements and offer resources. In addition, confidential counselor advocates are available at Centre Safe (24/7 toll-free hotline) in State College for counseling, sexual assault accompaniment, safety planning, and referrals to resources across the commonwealth.

What housing resources are available if I live off campus?

Along with support for those in need of housing there also are educational resources for off-campus students to learn more about renting, leases, conflict mediation with roommates and more:


What options are available for students experiencing a sudden or one-time financial crisis?

Many students face unforeseen circumstances during their time at the University, such as a need for temporary housing or food, medical expenses, unexpected travel costs due to a family crisis and more. If you’re experiencing a personal crisis or emergency during your time as a student, please know that you are not alone. The University has resources set up — including a Student Emergency Fund — for this very reason.

Reach out to the Student Insurance Advocate to discuss your options and the best resources for you. For example, staff can help assist you in completing applications for public assistance programs, like SNAP and rental assistance, or for a one-time grant from the Student Emergency Fund. Students also can reach out to Project Cahir for assistance with food, toiletries and textbooks.

How can I learn more about budgeting and finances?

The University offers free financial literacy resources to help students develop skills to manage financial resources. The Sokolov-Miller Family Financial and Life Skills Center offers:

  • Personal one-on-one meetings for students to discuss finances with staff and/or student ambassadors who provide peer-to-peer financial education and resources; schedule through Starfish.
  • Mentoring program for students to explore topics like budgeting, student loan borrowing and repayment, credit card and debt management, and other financial literacy topics with a Penn State alumnus, administrator or staff mentor.
  • Online self-study modules covering topics like budgeting, loans, money and nutrition, credit cards and more.
  • MoneyCounts: A Financial Literacy Series open to the public featuring workshops and webinars.

What types of other basic needs resources are available?

If you are facing a financial issue, food and housing resources are often only one part of finding solutions. Additional resources are available to assist you in areas such as:

Worrying about how to meet basic needs while juggling academic work, friends, family and more can take a toll on your mental wellness. If you need to talk to someone, Counseling and Psychological Services and the counseling office at your campus have a variety of services available to support you. Health Promotion and Wellness offers free wellness services around a variety of topics as well as other self-directed stress management resources. In an immediate mental health crisis, students at every campus can call (1-877-229-6400) or text (“LIONS” to 741741) the Penn State Crisis Line for 24/7 support.