On a busy weekday afternoon at Brandi Blackmon’s on-campus apartment, the 20-year-old Middle Georgia State College nursing student cooked lunch for a group of friends in between classes.
“Ava! Can you just taste this rice? I want you to season it ‘cause it don’t taste right. I don’t like it. It’s this rice-in-a-bag stuff,” she called out to a friend. “See, I shouldn’t have got it. I was trying to be cheap!”
Blackmon stretches her food dollars as far as she can. She has an on-campus job, and her parents give her some money for groceries and toiletries.
But sometimes it’s not enough. While Blackmon said she has never gone without food, she has eaten just two meals a day instead of three to cut expenses.
That’s where Middle Georgia State’s new food pantry comes in.
The food pantry -- dubbed SHARE, which stands for Serving, Helping and Respecting Everyone -- opened Jan. 14 on the college’s Macon campus. It’s stocked with staple items like peanut butter and spaghetti sauce to help students -- or even faculty or staff -- who have fallen on tough economic times.
Middle Georgia State is among dozens of colleges offering food pantries to their students in what appears to be a growing trend.
Today, there are more than 150 food pantries in the College and University Food Bank Alliance. In 2011, an Internet search found just 50, said Clare Cady, of Oregon State University, who co-founded the alliance.
The growing number of food banks on college campuses has been linked to the rising cost of tuition and supplies. This is happening at the same time many cash-strapped families cannot afford to send money to their children, according to the alliance.
Blackmon has visited the new food pantry on campus. She’s picked up items like Tuna Helper and Hamburger Helper. She claims to be able to stretch one box for a whole week of evening meals.
College students like Blackmon may not be starving, but they could be considered food insecure, said Cady, who directs Oregon State’s Human Services Resource Center, which helps students experiencing poverty, hunger, homelessness and food insecurity.
Students who are food insecure “are missing meals once a day, sometimes missing full days of meals,” Cady said. “These are students who are getting calories, but all their eating is very unhealthy food. They can only afford ramen noodles or mac and cheese, so the food is not necessarily nourishing them the way they need.”
The problem of food insecurity is increasingly on the radar of many college administrators like Dee Lindsey, director of student life at Middle Georgia State.
That’s why she created the SHARE food pantry. In a 10-by-10 foot room in the Student Life Center, Lindsey is perched behind a small desk surrounded by cans of veggies, packages of ramen noodles and Hamburger Helper stacked on shelves. There are also some toiletries along a bottom shelf.
In its first week open, nearly 30 students stopped by.
Students using the food pantry are not asked about their economic background, but Lindsey said she’s hearing from more hungry students, some like Blackmon, coming from the middle class.
“Students are sometimes finding it difficult to stay in class,” Lindsey said. “And if we can remove one of those barriers by providing access to food, then that’s what we need to do as an institution.”
To contact writer Leah Fleming, call 478-301-5760 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.