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Tuition or Meals? MN College Students Fight Food Insecurity

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019   

ST. PAUL, Minn. – For decades, cash-poor American college students have joked about their "ramen noodles diet" – but now more than ever, students say they have to choose between buying food and paying tuition. A first-of-its-kind federal government report found nearly two million college students are hungry.

Frankie Becerra is president of the student advocacy group – LeadMN: College Students Connecting for Change – and attends Century College in White Bear Lake. He works full-time to pay for a college education he feels will help him climb the economic ladder, but wonders how many people know that hunger can hamper success.

"I don't think that necessarily people would say, ‘Oh no, that doesn't happen,’” says Becerra. “I just don't think they know the severity of it, and how little resources there are on some campuses, because it can be a very embarrassing and demoralizing situation."

Becerra says his two-year community and technical college has a food pantry that students can access up to twice a month. The federal report says nearly 60 percent of low-income college students who are potentially eligible for food assistance did not report participating in a program in 2016.

Riverland Community College student and LeadMN Vice-President Oballa Oballa grew up in Kenyan refugee camps, and says many of the food packages they received were stamped 'U.S.A.'

As a result, he thought hunger didn't exist in America.

"This is not any different than what I've been going through in the refugee camp, where I only get one meal for one day or two days – and sometimes have to go without it,” says Oballa. “So, I cry inside – as a young man, I have that stigma whereby I feel ashamed to ask someone else for food."

The 26-year old Oballa is pursuing a degree in Human Services and has been active in bringing a food pantry to his campus.

"It's up and running now and the line never stops,” says Oballa. “Every day, students are lining up and they're really benefiting from it. So, through that food pantry, my grades went up because I don't have to focus on food, I'm only focusing on getting up my grade."

Oballa says the Riverland Community College food pantry now feeds about 400 students a month.


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