Oregon campuses put food pantries in reach

College students gain a resource for fighting hunger

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ASHLAND, Ore. -- A new campus food bank, meant to make finding meals less of a hassle for hungry, class-hopping Southern Oregon University students, is beginning to see use.

"Sometimes with classes it's hard for students to make it out to the Ashland Emergency Food Bank," said coordinator Sophia Mantheakis. "And we're finding that more and more college students are struggling to get by."

In its fourth week, the SOU Food Pantry has served 12 people, most of them a handful of times, and new in-need students are turning up each week, says Mantheakis, the hunger and homelessness alleviation coordinator for SOU's Civic Engagement Program, which runs the pantry.

Only SOU students with valid university identification are served, she said.

Organizers hope most of the donations will come from the SOU community, she said, and so far, so good. The university's Commuter Resource Center donated $1,000 to get the pantry off the ground, and community members donate nonperishable food through drop boxes on campus.

Students are allowed 10 items each week, and can swing in on Tuesdays or Thursdays from 2 to 4 p.m. or make an appointment that works with their schedule.

College staples -- macaroni and cheese, ramen, chili, canned foods and bagged pasta, and granola bars -- are among the pantry's available items, as is fresh, organic produce grown in the Ecology Center of the Siskiyous' on-campus community garden.

"I would like to see this grow into an established program," Mantheakis said. "We don't want to see our students struggling in class because they're hungry."

That's the primary reason students at Oregon State University, and at least six other Oregon colleges, have agreed to open similar pantries for students, said Clare Cady, human services resource center coordinator at OSU.

The OSU food pantry served 2,625 people last year, many of them several times, Cady said, and that number doubled from the previous year. That doesn't mean need doubled, she said, but that the resource center did a better job of spreading awareness about the pantry.

In its fourth year, fewer students have used the OSU pantry this fall, she said, but that's expected. "As the school year progresses, people are more prone to use the service," she said. "This is the type of service helps students to stay in school and graduate … it makes certain students less likely to experience food insecurity."

The food pantry at OSU, which was the state's first on-campus pantry, is open to anyone, but 95 percent of the people it serves are students, Cady said.

"I think something like that is a great idea for us," said Evan Short, 20, a junior art student at SOU.

"I probably won't use it, because I don't need it," he said. "There are always people out there that can use that sort of help."