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Pop-up pantries aim to reduce food insecurity for college students

Food pantries are appearing more frequently in a surprising type of location: colleges and universities. More than 700 educational institutions belong to a national nonprofit aiming to alleviate food insecurity among college students. From PBS station WTTW in Chicago, Brandis Friedman reports on how City Colleges and the Greater Chicago Food Depository are providing nutrition along with knowledge.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Food pantries are popping up more and more in a surprising new location, colleges and universities.

    From PBS station WTTW in Chicago, Brandis Friedman reports on how City Colleges and the Greater Chicago Food Depository are providing for students there.

  • Brandis Friedman:

    On the basement level of Harold Washington City College, students find space to study, catch up and grab a bite between classes or jobs.

  • Shabaka Verna:

    Papers, late nights. I'm also involved, so it's like I have to balance schoolwork.

  • Brandis Friedman:

    And, in the corner, something most colleges don't have, but a surprising number might need: a food pantry.

    Student government association treasurer Shabaka Verna knows that many of his schoolmates struggle with balancing time, but also expenses.

  • Shabaka Verna:

    But with community college life, you're not away at your dorms. You're maybe living with family or renting your own apartment, and you don't have a professional job yet. So you're working around minimum wage, not much resources, not a salary, and you're still going — balancing school.

  • Brandis Friedman:

    Nationwide, research shows 25 percent of community college students experience food insecurity, compared to 20 percent of students at four-year schools.

    And the rates of food insecurity are higher for black and Hispanic students, at 57 percent and 40 percent, respectively. The Greater Chicago Food Depository noticed the problem.

  • Kate Maehr:

    We saw students coming into the traditional food pantry served by the Greater Chicago Food Depository, students who were going to class, who were going to a job, maybe picking up children from child care, doing all things that they needed to do, and at the end of the day, having to make a stop at a food pantry to get the food they needed to live a healthy life.

  • Brandis Friedman:

    In response, it partnered with all seven City Colleges to offer pop-up pantries. The demand was so great, the Food Depository opened five full-time pantries, this one at Harold Washington College, and four more at other campuses, with plans for more.

  • Kate Maehr:

    The fact that we need food pantries inside of City Colleges is actually a sobering reflection about need all across our community. We know that the face of hunger is changing.

  • Brandis Friedman:

    On the afternoon we visited, a class of students came to learn about the pantry for the first time. Before leaving, several used the time to go shopping.

  • Jamesha Lathan:

    I got one of everything. I wanted to tell the story. I know I got me some crackers. I didn't see even these. I got me some strawberries. I got me two packs of macaroni.

  • Brandis Friedman:

    First-year student Jamesha Lathan says it's all needed at home.

  • Jamesha Lathan:

    I live with my grandmother, but she's my guardian. I'm not the only child that she takes care of. So, it's kind of hard for us.

  • Brandis Friedman:

    This pantry is open on Mondays and Thursdays. Students have access to nonperishable food, but also fresh produce, eggs and milk. There's no limit to how much a student can take, but they can only visit once a month.

    And the pantry runs on the honor system: Don't take food if you don't need it.

  • Juan Salgado:

    Our students have so many worries.

  • Brandis Friedman:

    City Colleges Chancellor Juan Salgado says many City Colleges students experience challenges that can lead to food insecurity.

  • Juan Salgado:

    We attract many students who are first in their family to go to college, many students that come from low- and moderate-income families. We attract students that are in poverty, and extreme poverty.

  • Brandis Friedman:

    And one bag of food here isn't just for that student, but his or her family, too.

  • Pedro Rico:

    I have five brothers and sisters. So, food runs out really quick. I was thinking, like, man, I could take some home and have some extra food for the week.

  • Brandis Friedman:

    The Food Depository says the healthy student markets at City Colleges served more than 11,000 households in fiscal year 2018 and distributed more than 220,000 pounds of food, more than half of it fresh produce.

    The plan is to turn the pop-ups at the other five campuses into dedicated pantries like this one as long as they're needed.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Brandis Friedman in Chicago.

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