Local food pantries should not forget students in need

By Daily Illini Editorial Board

Nearly 1.9 million Illinoisans lack access to nutritious foods, according to Feeding Illinois, an organization focusing on hunger-relief charity. But according to U.S. Census data, 21.8 percent of residents in Champaign County are living under the poverty line, well above the Illinois average of 13.1 percent. 

But students are often the forgotten demographic regarding poverty and hunger — they need the help just as much.     

Food pantries are generally geared toward serving the homeless and low-income populations that are typically in need of meals. But it’s not often that a food pantry is created specifically to meet the needs of students, a group overlooked when considering those who are usually serviced by food pantries. 

In September, the St. John’s Catholic Newman Center established the “Newman Shares!” food pantry to help University and Parkland College students who may not be able to afford an adequate amount of food on their own, especially during the holiday season. 

The concept of the pantry was influenced by local food pantries and a similar food pantry on the Michigan State University campus. While many students who are living in dorms have access to the food they need through meal plans, older students who live in apartments and houses may not have access to daily, nutritious meals. 

Additionally, the Wesley Foundation is opening a new food pantry on Dec. 11 at Parkland College. Like “Newman Shares!”, the food pantry was established after seeing students, especially the veteran population on campus, who were in need. 

“Newman Shares!” food pantry is open on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month, while the Wesley Foundation food pantry at Parkland is tentatively set to open the second Wednesday of every month. 

Julie Melton, director of marketing and development at the Eastern Illinois Foodbank, said in an Oct. 1 Daily Illini article that “45 percent of people ages 18 to 26 were living at or below the poverty level in 2012.” 

The statistic includes students who are living independently while working part time and paying for school. 

What is great about these food pantries is that they not only provide students with the food they need, but it’s also allowing them to have access to vegetables and other more nutritious items. This encourages students to steer away from cheap fast-food options, which have low nutritional value. The food pantries want to provide food to students, but also make sure students have the option to eat healthy food. 

Other college campuses should follow suit and ensure an established food pantry available to students. 

There are many students who are taking out loans to pay for their college tuition, and they do not have the funds to also pay for rent and adequate, nutritious meals. Many students are also working extra jobs just to make ends meet. 

In addition to the students who have to worry about feeding themselves, many graduate students have families that they also need to feed. It’s difficult to worry about that on top of school and the additional fees that come with it.

With these food pantries, students will hopefully be recognized as a population, among others, that is also in need.