Kansas, Missouri colleges start food pantries

? Colleges in Kansas and Missouri are among a growing number nationwide opening food pantries to help students survive the ever-increasing costs of higher education.

Kansas University and the University of Missouri began stocking pantries for students, staff and faculty a year or more ago. More recently in Kansas, Emporia State University and Washburn University started pantries this month, while Pittsburg State opened one in October. In Missouri, the University of Missouri-Kansas City student activities office is working on adding a food pantry in March, The Kansas City Star reported.

Tyler Huddleston, the student body president at Emporia State, had an eye-opening moment when he learned a friend wasn’t coming back to school because he couldn’t afford to eat. Emporia State’s Center for Student Involvement surveyed students to determine whether a pantry was needed. Among students who responded, 42 percent said they had skipped meals because they didn’t have enough money.

“I was surprised at the breadth of the problem,” said Huddleston, who was part of a student committee that opened a food pantry in a corner room of the Student Union. “I didn’t realize how many students were affected by this.”

KU’s food pantry, Campus Cupboard, opened in September 2013. The small pantry inside Ecumenical Campus Ministries, 1204 Oread Ave., is a collaboration between Just Food and several KU groups.

It serves between 15 and 30 households a month, Just Food director Jeremy Farmer said. He said most are individual college students, though the pantry is open to anyone.

Just Food wants to provide college students with not just any food — ie: ramen noodles — but the “right” food, Farmer said. Campus Cupboard offers produce, milk, meat, bread and non-perishable items.

“It’s not that KU students literally have no food to eat whatsoever,” he said. “It’s that they’re not eating good stuff, because the good stuff is too expensive for a poor college student to buy.”

Because college students are a unique population, good data on hunger rates is scarce, Farmer said. Their income, or lack of it, and whether they have meal plans must be considered.

However, Kansas University and most of its adjacent census tracts are designated as low-income and having low-access to food, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Access Research Atlas.

Of 4,167 people living on campus, 2,819, or 68 percent, are both low-income and live at least half a mile from the nearest grocery store, according to the USDE. In most surrounding neighborhoods, percentages of low-income and low-food access residents also are high.

Feeding America, a nationwide network that feeds more than 46 million people through food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters, said in its 2014 report on hunger that one in 10 hungry U.S. adults is a student. Two million are attending school full-time, and 1 million go part-time.

Food insecurity on campus “is clearly a concern,” said Elaine Waxman, spokeswoman for Feeding America. She said her agency has seen an increase in calls from colleges and universities inquiring about starting a campus food pantry.

Michigan State University was one of the first four-year schools to open a student-run food pantry on its campus. A year ago, the university was getting so many calls from other campuses asking how to start a food pantry that it launched the College and University Food Bank Alliance.

At last count, about 100 universities connected with the alliance and opened campus pantries, including the one at the University of Missouri. Officials with the food bank alliance said they had heard of about 30 more schools unaffiliated with the alliance that have opened pantries.