College students struggling with food insecurity turn to campus food pantries

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As many as one out of every three college students in the U.S. is dealing with food insecurity, according to Temple University’s The Hope Center, and at the University of California, Davis, students line up daily for the school’s food pantry.

“Rent is unbelievably expensive,” senior Erin Cashin told CBS News. “It’s unfortunate that food and groceries and just basic needs costs are so gigantic”

Cashin showed up 90 minutes before the doors opened at the on-campus food pantry.

“I literally structure my class schedules around being able to come to the pantry,” she said.

The pantry is run by students, many of whom work there because they previously found help there themselves.

“It feels good to give back and know that I’m needed here,” said junior Kate Tobie, who knows from experience about the “anxious” feeling of not knowing where your next meal might come from.

Leslie Kemp, director of UC Davis’ Basic Needs Center, told CBS News she believes it’s important to offer items like fresh produce, some of which is grown on the student farm and donated to the pantry.

“A dollar today buys a third of the commodities that it bought when I was in school,” Kemp said. 

And the problem of student food insecurity isn’t unique to UC Davis. There are now close to 800 food pantries on college campuses across the country, according to the nonprofit Trellis Company. A decade ago, there were just 80. 

But UC Davis was one of the first to open its pantry. It was originally buried in a basement, but campus officials told CBS News they found that location actually increased the stigma for those most in need. The UC Davis pantry is now located in the heart of campus.  

While the pantry isn’t intended for those with a meal plan or students who can afford groceries, it’s open to anyone with a student ID, no questions asked.

“If we’ve got 10 students coming in and three didn’t need it, I’m okay with that. As long as we get those seven who did need it,” Kemp said.

Cashin said the pantry helps lift a “huge” load off her shoulders and that if it weren’t available, “it would absolutely affect my academic performance. It would definitely affect mental health.”

But she’s careful to only take what she needs.

“I think that’s kind of what comes with a gift economy. Let me make sure I leave some behind for the next person,” she said.

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