College students struggle to afford food, federal report says


Shane Tolentino

College students struggle to afford food, federal report says

By Katherine Savage

As tuition rises, many college students struggle to afford basic necessities, such as food. 

A December 2018 report by the United States General Accountability Office analyzed data from 2016 and concluded that millions of students who are eligible for federal assistance that could help get them access to food, such as the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, are not receiving it.

To help ease this burden, many schools, including Columbia, have installed on-campus food pantries within the last few years.

Columbia’s food pantry is located in the Student Life office, 623 S. Wabash Ave., in Suite 307. The pantry is connected to the College and University Food Bank Alliance, a campus-based program that focuses on helping students with food insecurity.

The Greater Chicago Food Depository, 4100 W. Ann Lurie Place, partners with City Colleges of Chicago to set up food pantries. The University of Illinois at Chicago and Northeastern Illinois University also partner with the food distribution agency, according to Greg Trotter, a spokesperson for the depository.

“I’ve talked to graduate students, homeowners [and] working families, all needing food assistance,” Trotter said. “There’s no shame in seeking out help. Your focus should be on your studies, not on how to feed yourself or your family.”

These on-campus food pantries are also available to staff  and faculty members. 

People often have to decide between paying a heating bill and buying groceries. The depository tries to keep donors engaged after the holiday season because that is when people need it the most, according to Trotter.

“The holiday giving kind of peaks, and then it just trails off,” Trotter said. “We try to keep the attention there to help people in those difficult situations.”

Freshman audio design and production major Andre Donaldson said people should not be ashamed of using the food pantry because everyone has difficulties.

“Ask those who do have [food] to see if they can help and give more supplies to the food pantry,” Donaldson said. “A lot of people do need it, and I don’t think enough people give.”

Junior early childhood education major Karina Munoza said having the food pantry on campus makes it easier for students to donate and receive food.

“I have a lot of goods in my pantry that I don’t even use,” Munoz said. “Instead of going out of my way to go and find a location that I could donate to, I’m already on campus.”

Munoz said the college should emphasize volunteering and helping others because there are plenty of people who need it in the Chicago area. 

“[We should be] talking about it more and letting it be known that it’s OK to [get] help. The reason people don’t talk about it a lot is because they think people will judge them,” Munoz said. “We’re working with low-income neighborhoods, and sometimes a child might not have enough to eat. It’s important that we give those kinds of resources to families.”

There are several resources to help those in need, including the “Find Food” search engine on the Greater Chicago Food Depository website, Trotter said.

“There’s nothing wrong with asking for help,” Trotter said. “You shouldn’t feel ashamed, especially as you’re trying to get your education and move [on] to greater things in life.”