As hunger continues to be an increasing problem nationwide, some college campuses are opening food banks to help the growing number of students in need.
“Food Pantries on college campuses are unique because they seek an underserved population of students that many people may not be aware is struggling,” said Laura Pick, a graduate student and coordinator of Oregon State University’s emergency food pantry.
“[In] grade school through high school, students can receive free or reduced [priced] lunch, but when you get to college you don’t have those options,” Pick noted.
In 2009, more than 31 million children, ages 18 and under, received free or reduced price lunches every school day under the federally assisted National School Lunch Program, according to United States Department of Agriculture figures.
Similarly in 2009, 11.1 million children participated in the federally assisted School Breakfast Program and 9.1 million of those children received their meals for free or at a reduced price, the USDA said.
As more of those students pursue higher education, many are now finding it difficult to meet the rising cost of tuition, books and housing, and still have enough money left for meals.
“We’re here to help students who have to decide between buying textbooks or buying food,” Pick said.
The food pantry at OSU, which has recently been serving upwards of 200 students a month, was started to address the growing food needs on campus, Pick said. The pantry assists mainly college students but is open to the general public as well.
It opens its doors toward the end of every month because that’s when people generally tend to run out of food stamps, Pick said.
The USDA recently released statistics showing that the need for food assistance has increased significantly in the past couple years: 42.9 million people used food stamps in September 2010, six million more than the 36.9 million people who relied on them a year ago.
The September 2010 numbers are also a roughly 50 percent increase from the numbers in the beginning of 2008, the USDA said.
Today, there are 22,000 new applications every day for food stamps, up from 20,000 applications a day last year, the USDA said.
Every university should have a food bank, according to Pick, adding that Oregon State University is trying to partner with other universities to start food banks on their campuses and encourages other schools to come up with creative solutions to help students who need a hand. Some are doing just that. For example, Abdallah Jadallah, a student at UCLA, started a food bank at his school in an abandoned storage closet on campus, according to UCLA’s website.
“I think more colleges are recognizing that hunger is an issue for students and trying to combat it,” Pick said.
One of the most important issues involving hunger on the college campus is simply convincing people that it’s OK to receive help, Pick said. “It takes a great deal of courage for an individual to admit that they are food insecure and then seek aid.”