September is Hunger Action Month, a time to take a pro-active part in ending hunger. For UTRGV’s Cristina Vega, helping others fight hunger is her job.
“We have a lot of jokes in society, like, ‘Ha. Ha. Poor college student. You’re probably eating Ramen.’ And that’s not really something to joke about, because it’s a reality,” said Vega, program coordinator of the UTRGV Student Food Pantry.
The Student Food Pantry is a free service available to UTRGV students. More than 2,500 UTRGV students received food from the pantry in the spring semester. In the world of higher education, they aren’t alone in their need.
No government estimates
In a 2018 report, the U.S. Government Accountability Office determined there wasn’t enough survey data to get direct estimates for the number of college students with limited or uncertain access to adequate food. But of the 31 studies the office reviewed, most estimated more than 30 percent of college students dealt with food insecurity.
In its report, the GAO wrote that the billions of dollars the federal government spends on higher education “is at risk if college students drop out because they cannot afford basic necessities like food.”
Many people are unaware college students deal with food insecurity. Even fewer may know about services available to help them, like the university’s Student Food Pantry.
“It wasn’t until I got hired that I learned the role of the food pantry and that we had one here at both UTRGV in Edinburg and Brownsville,” said Jacquelyn Herrera, manager for the Student Food Pantry on the Brownsville Campus and a junior majoring in social work.
Staff works to dispel stigma
Upon introduction to the food service, the Brownsville native also learned about the stigma associated with using it.
“I quickly caught on to that as soon as I was hired,” Herrera said, “probably within my first few weeks. We had many students who were really shy to come in.”
To get the word out, Student Food Pantry workers share information about the services at campus events and speak to classes.
“We feel that helps to dispel some of the stigma,” said Vega, the Student Food Pantry coordinator.
New food pantry location in Brownsville
A recent change in Brownsville is also helping the Student Food Pantry get more attention. The pantry moved from Cortez Hall to Calvary Hall, which is closer to the Student Union, and the staff already credits the new location with an increase in the number of students using the service.
“I want the students to know that everybody automatically qualifies as long as you’re a current student,” Vega said. “All you would need is to bring your student ID, and we can get you set up real fast. And you can leave with food the same day.”
Donations accepted year-round
Anyone interested in donating to the UTRGV Student Food Pantry is welcome.
“We have people who think, ‘Oh, it’s just for during Thanksgiving or Christmas. I’ll come and I’ll give food then.’ But it is a year-round need.”
Large yellow Student Pantry bins are across the campus and outside of the food pantries for donations. A list of high-demand items is on the UTRGV Student Food Pantry website. Monetary donations are also accepted on the website.
Students interested in learning more about the Student Food Pantry can also check its Facebook page for updates on new items available and upcoming Healthy Food Habits Workshops.