When Iowa State University senior Zachary Krueger first heard about a food pantry opening on his college campus, he knew he wanted to go, but he hesitated to step inside. "I had to stop and steel myself to go in," the liberal studies major said. "Basically getting into the mindset that I had no reason to be embarrassed."
That emotion quickly faded after he was greeted by friendly volunteers who urged him to take as much food as he needed. He was relieved. Krueger said he walked out of the pantry thinking about how "mind boggling" it is that so much of his budget goes just to food. "Now that's going to plummet so much," he said. "I think I'll be able to get out of the cycle I'm in of borrowing money from people and giving up more and more of the things I love to do because they cost even the littlest amount of money."
Krueger said he knows that the fact that some college students are in need of food assistance may be hard for some people to swallow. "I understand that it would be difficult for people to accept that a person could afford tuition but not three meals a day, or two," he said. "So I request that skeptics try to suspend judgment on the matter for a while, and let the success of [ISU's food pantry] as it continues speak for itself."
ISU and the University of Arkansas opened food pantries this month, adding to a growing list of universities that includes Utah State University, Bakersfield College in California, University of California-Davis, and West Virginia University.
ISU sophomores Hailey Boudreau and Sarah Schwanebeck decided to start a campus food pantry after taking a class that encouraged them to find ways to support food assistance needs in the community. Using City-Data.com, a website that collects and analyzes data from U.S. cities, they looked at the breakdown by age of those living below the poverty level in Ames, Iowa and found that the biggest percentage were 18 to 24-year-olds. But after talking to local food pantries and students, Boudreau and Schwanebeck found that students weren't using the area food pantries because they were too far from campus.
WVU found the same problem among its students, which is why the university opened a food pantry in September of last year. "If you have it right on campus, it won't take [students] from the environment," said Jacqueline Dooley, program coordinator for student organization services at WVU. "They can stay on campus, grab food, and go to their classes. It's convenient."
Dooley said 18 students used the food pantry in the last week of January. To get food, students simply walk in and take what they need. "A lot of students are embarrassed," Dooley said. "We did not want to bring attention to them...so we wanted to make it as least invasive as possible."
Over at the University of Arkansas, graduate student John Jones knew his fellow students needed some help after hearing stories of students taking food from dining halls, sleeping in cars and campus buildings, and showing up to events just for the free food, "It finally got to the point where our students said 'Enough. We have to do something about this,'" Jones said. He and other students and staff worked together to create a food pantry on campus.