Gretchen S. Carroll, left, Owens’ dean of business, and Krista Kiessling, director of service learning, visit the food pantry at the Perrysburg Township campus. The college also has established a pantry on its Findlay campus.
Its shelves stocked with staples such as peanut butter, cereal, and pasta, what is believed to be the region’s first food pantry for college students is to open in mid-February.
Owens Community College’s Harvest Food Pantries program was inspired by student need and also is a way to introduce service learning on campus, said Krista Kiessling, the school’s director of service learning.
“We did have some issues with students dealing with the recession,” she said.
“We can’t help them out with everything in their life,” Ms. Kiessling said.
“We can’t pay their mortgage for them. But we can help them out with some support for their groceries. That is reasonable for us to do,” she added.
The Perrysburg Township and Findlay campuses will each have a food pantry.
Full-time students in Ohio are not eligible for food stamps, now known as SNAP, unless they meet an exception such as participating in a federal work-study program, being over age 50, or being responsible for a dependent child under age 12.
Even if they meet an exception, if they live in a school
dorm they are still not eligible, said Ben Johnson, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
The state doesn’t track how many students meet an exemption and collect food assistance, Mr. Johnson said.
Some of the pantry’s food will be donated to Owens from the Toledo Seagate Foodbank.
“The concept that they are recognizing — that if someone is going to school they still might need some help — is wonderful,” said Aggie Alt, the food bank’s community-awareness director.
The first student food pantry in the country started at Michigan State University in 1993.
Some of the food at Owens Community College’s student pantry will be donated from the Toledo Seagate Foodbank. The first student food pantry in the country started at Michigan State in 1993.
“People have a view that a typical college student is 18 years old and getting support from mom and dad,” he said, noting that although many MSU students do fit this profile, the student population also includes adults returning to school or adult graduate students who are supporting families.
The MSU food bank helps more than 4,700 clients a year, distributing about 50,100 pounds of food such as bread, pasta, peanut butter, tuna, and fruits and vegetables, he said.
A number of other schools across the country have opened food pantries for their students in recent years.
The SHOP (Students Helping Our Peers) food pantry at Iowa State University in Ames has 15 to 20 students stopping by each week, estimates Suzanne Hendrich, a professor of food science and human nutrition.
The pantry is in a back room in the Food Sciences Building. It does not keep a record of users but does require a student ID, she said. It opened about a year ago.
The Cupboard, a student pantry at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, has had 30 to 50 students every week since opening a few months ago, said Cari Rutledge, a student at the university who runs the pantry.
Before the pantry opened on campus, she and others tried to gauge the need for it by examining data from the school’s financial aid office.
“One of the main things we looked at was how many students had parents’ help. A lot of our students are receiving almost no [financial] help from their parents” and using loans for living expenses, she said.
Ms. Rutledge added, “Being the lead person for this on campus — it has truly opened my eyes.”
In Ohio, Wright State University in Dayton opened a student food pantry last year, and Cuyahoga Community College has had one for several years.
Mark Rodriguez, director of student life, athletics, and recreation at Tri-C’s campus in Parma, said he encourages other schools to start pantries.
Now in its fourth year, the Tri-C campus pantry has had broad support from students, faculty, and staff, he said. “People embraced it, right from the get-go,” said Mr. Rodriguez.
Rebecca Fensler, food pantry coordinator at Wright State, said such pantries are another way for schools to support students and help them stay in school in a time of rising tuition. Many of the school’s students are first-generation college attendees, Ms. Fensler said.
She said that since Wright State’s pantry opened about a year ago, she has been contacted by several other colleges looking for information about how to start a pantry.
The trend is spreading quickly and she believes a campus food pantry might one day be considered standard at community colleges and state schools, Ms. Fensler said.
Said Mr. Smith-Tyge, “I do think it is a need, probably on most campuses — whether people are aware of it or not.”
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