For years, there has been increasing emphasis placed on making sure schoolchildren don’t have to sit in their classrooms hungry.
School breakfast programs have been added or expanded to help children who otherwise would come to class hungry by giving them nutritional meals to start their days.
These have been in addition to school lunch programs, which have been around seemingly forever, but which have increasingly been made available to children who can’t afford to pay for them.
Those programs still cause controversy when some schools penalize kids who can’t pay but haven’t qualified for official assistance, and that’s a national shame.
But in the words of Arlo Guthrie from Alice’s Restaurant, “That’s not what I came to tell you about.”
What we’re excited about is that hungry college students are now getting some attention at Virginia Highlands Community College.
So-called food insecurity doesn’t automatically go away for some people just because they’ve moved beyond high school. It’s a problem for — and often a barrier to — some who are trying to go to college to earn a degree or learn a trade. Even as an adult, it’s still hard to focus on learning if you’re truly hungry and aren’t sure where your next meal is coming from.
To help solve that problem, VHCC has opened a food pantry on the Abingdon campus to provide both canned food and some perishable foods, such as yogurt and cheese, to students, according to a recent story by Carolyn R. Wilson in the Washington County News.
The food pantry is called “The Phil Station” in memory of the late faculty member Phil Ferguson, who died of cancer more than a year ago. It’s in the MEC building on campus, and students may check in using an iPad in the pantry from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday. They are encouraged to take whatever they need, at no charge to them.
“We have become increasing aware — as surprising as it sounds — that one of the problems some of our students face is food insecurity,” said Kellie Crowe, coordinator of public relations and marketing at the college. “The food pantry is our effort to realize this is a need and to make an available place where our students can come and get food.”
The food pantry is yet another way VHCC is helping students attend and succeed in their post-secondary education. Two other recent programs have begun to provide transportation to and from the school, and suitable clothes are available for students who are getting ready for job interviews or their first days on their new jobs.
“At community college conferences we attend across the nation, we learn the top reasons students withdraw from school,” Crowe said. “There are a lot of reasons you’d think would be on the list, but in actuality, things like food and transportation are at the top.”
The newspaper story noted that food insecurity among college students is not just a local problem — it is found at two-year and four-year colleges throughout the country. A national report from the Urban Institute last year estimated that 11% of households with a student who was attending a four-year college experienced food insecurity. That rose to 17% of households that included a community college student.
These students aren’t just kids right out of high school, either. Some are likely to be single parents struggling to make ends meet, the story said.
To start the food pantry, VHCC was given a $14,400 grant from Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield through the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education, according to Stan Barringer, the college’s interim grant coordinator.
“Virginia Highlands works with students with many backgrounds who face various barriers, including food insecurity,” Barringer told the newspaper. “This grant is a wonderful opportunity for us to provide the nutrition they need at college and at home.”
The grant helped with setting up the pantry, including purchase of a cooler and the first stock of food. But to keep it going, more donations will be needed, and they will have to keep coming to be able to keep the pantry stocked.
While the college has some other sources lined up for now, grant money may not always be available, so the food pantry is looking to hold food drives and find other ways to keep the shelves full.
This is a good cause that deserves any support we can give it, and we hope it helps the students it serves to stay in school and complete their educations.