Across the state, enlisting the help of students, faculty, staff and community volunteers, Virginia’s Community Colleges are stepping up to face the problem of student hunger. At least 15 of Virginia’s 23 community colleges operate student food pantries, or make grocery deliveries to hard-pressed families during exam periods.
“The individual colleges took this on by their own initiative, and I couldn’t be prouder of their actions,” said Glenn DuBois, chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges. “Local students and administrators saw the need and they set out to find local resources to help. This is a wake-up call to many of us who have never had to worry about where our next meal is coming from.”
Getting a handle on the scope of student hunger in the U.S. is a major challenge. The most widely cited research comes from the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, whose recent survey gleaned insights from 43,000 students at 66 two-year and four-year colleges in 20 states.
“If the student’s basic needs are not met, how can we expect them to be successful in school?” – Lelia Bradshaw, Mountain Empire Community College Dean of Student Services.
In April, the organization reported that 42 percent of community college students experience food insecurity, meaning they were unsure about the availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or the ability to acquire such foods in a socially acceptable manner. The most extreme form of food insecurity is often accompanied by physiological sensations of hunger.
A higher proportion of community college students reported food insecurity than university students (36%), probably because community colleges serve more non-traditional and lower income students.
In another sobering note, the same survey indicated that 12 percent of American community college students are homeless.
Aware of the social stigma that might keep students from seeking help, some of the food pantries on Virginia community college campuses do not require users to register or reveal their personal information. Most others require only minimal sign-in. Some of the pantries are for students only; others also are open to faculty and staff in need.
“A student cannot learn if he or she is hungry. If we’re trying to help students reach their academic and personal goals, they can’t do that if they’re hungry.” – Paul D. Camp Community College Success Coach Dr. Sandra Walker.
Community college food pantries generally offer grab-and-go non-perishable items. Several of the college food pantries operate in association with local foodbanks.
“I grew up abroad, came here and was like, ‘Oh, everyone is probably well-to-do here.’ And then, a community college has a basic food problem. It was very shocking to me,” Northern Virginia Community College student Alisha Saiyed said to TV station WJLA.
Saiyed is a member of the local civic club that runs the NVCC student food pantry. She says many of the students who get food there are single moms and dads
.“If you’re hungry, you can’t focus on your classes, you can’t focus on your work,” she said.
Another NVCC student told the TV station she gets half her weekly meals from the campus food pantry.
Anecdotal evidence may be bolstered by additional research in the near future. The federal government will release a study on college hunger this fall, according to a report in The Washington Post.
A survey conducted earlier this month found the following community colleges operating food pantries, or arranging food deliveries, for needy students:
• PVCC (planning completed)
Motto of “Food For Thought,” SWCC’s food pantry: “You are many things, but hungry shouldn’t be one of them.”
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