For more and more college students in Connecticut and elsewhere, the burdens of paying to tuition, fees, room and board, and textbooks aren’t where the financial stresses stop.
Increasingly, on campuses around the country, students are having issues with food insecurity.
And some institutions, like Norwalk Community College, have tried to help students as best they can. The school started a food pantry specifically for students less than five years ago.
“It was something that could be a little taboo to talk about so we tried to find a place that was a little more off the beaten track to make it so the stigma about kids being hungry, you know, students wouldn’t feel bad using the pantry,” said Courtney Anstett, Service-Learning Coordinator at NCC, who helped to establish The Pantry.
The pantry at NCC isn’t big by any definition. It’s in a small room that used to house a copier. Now it has nonperishable food items on shelving on each side of the narrow space. There’s also a freezer and refrigerator for other items.
The federal government has taken notice of the issue. A report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office found that there is a lack of reliable data on the number of students facing food insecurity.
At Norwalk, an informal survey revealed more than 30 percent of students have come in contact with the pantry in recent years.
NCC’s President David Levinson says ensuring there’s space and resources for the Pantry is a requirement, given the modern demands on college students.
“You look at food, plus housing cost, transportation. Even though we do a very good job covering tuition and fees for those in need, there’s a lot of other costs they have to incur,” he said.
One of the students who both utilizes the pantry and works there is Guerlina Philogene.
She says hunger was a regular issue during her childhood and it continues to be an issue today. She says the Pantry at NCC has become an essential part of her routine.
“This has been a great start with me,” said Philogene, who lives in Stamford and will study business next year at UConn. “I would come home, bring cans, snacks for my little sister, so she can enjoy, too.
Anstett, who helped establish the pantry, says the program has been incredibly successful. She says she believes more institutions, including four year colleges, need to grow their awareness about the issue.
She said, “We want to serve the whole student so if we’re helping them in this one area, in the food pantry with the grab ‘n go, but if we can give them skills where they can sustain themselves for long periods of time, then I would say that’s ideal.”