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Combating Hunger on Utah College Campuses

Several colleges in Utah have opened food pantries to help address the growing challenges of food insecurity among students. (USDA)
Several colleges in Utah have opened food pantries to help address the growing challenges of food insecurity among students. (USDA)
April 4, 2018

SALT LAKE CITY - A growing number of college students in Utah and across the nation don't have enough money to buy food, according to a new national survey.

It says nearly one in 10 community college students went without food for 24 hours in the past month. Researchers found that nearly half of community college students struggle with hunger, and 36 percent of university students are food insecure.

Melissa Jensen, outreach manager for Utahns Against Hunger, said the stereotype of the "starving college student" bored with Chinese take-out and day-old pizza misses the mark.

"There definitely is a problem on our campuses," she said. "When we talked with students, a lot of them had no idea there was a food pantry, and you could see something light up in their eyes - like, 'Oh, I can go get food? I can go get help?' "

Jensen recently wrapped up a series of workshops to connect students with resources, including SNAP benefits - formerly known as food stamps - at Salt Lake Community College. She said with rising tuition costs and mounting student-loan debt, some people skip meals to make ends meet, and many have to choose between paying for rent, books or food.

Rebecca Van Maren, community partnerships coordinator at Salt Lake Community College, said students who attended the workshops were especially excited to learn they could access on-campus community gardens, which have grown from a single location at Miller campus to four of the college's 10 sites.

"The idea that they could grow their own food, and if they didn't have the ability to rent their own plot for $25 for a growing season, then they were able to access that fresh produce through the pantry," she said. "It's a really great way for us to increase access to healthy, nutritious food."

In addition to Salt Lake Community College, Utah State University, the University of Utah, Southern Utah University, Dixie State University and others also have launched food pantries to help students, staff and faculty members struggling to get by.

The report is online at wihopelab.com.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - UT