Studies show that one in four community college students is food insecure. To help meet the needs of students facing hunger, the Community College of Rhode Island opened its first food pantry during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Monday, March 25, at the Flanagan Campus in Lincoln.
Food insecurity is even more severe for first-generation students and students of color; 57 percent of African-American students and 56 percent of first-generation college students report hunger.
“We know the challenges our students face outside the classroom every day – housing, childcare, transportation and, yes, hunger. If our students are forced to choose between staying in school or picking up an extra shift or even taking on a second job to pay for basic human needs, they are more likely to drop courses or drop out, deferring – or abandoning – the opportunity for a brighter future. With the opening of the food pantry, we are going to change that,” said CCRI President Meghan Hughes.
Open to all enrolled CCRI students, the food pantry will offer nonperishable food items and some household and personal hygiene products. Staff and student volunteers will operate the food pantry five days a week, with weekly deliveries to each campus.
Requesting support from the food pantry is designed to be simple, clear and discreet. Students will fill out a request form online and the groceries will be delivered to their campus on designated days. There is no requirement to show need and no need to explain why someone needs assistance.
The opening of the food pantry was made possible through the personal support of four individuals who pledged donations toward the pantry at the college’s Raising Opportunities benefit last year: Chairman, President and CEO of Amica Mutual Insurance Co. Bob DiMuccio and his wife, Rena, and President and CEO of BlueCross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island Kim Keck and her husband, Phil. Continuing support will come from private donations, student and faculty-led food drives and partnership with local businesses.
Kim Keck noted, “It’s impossible to be successful at anything if you are hungry and wondering about where your next meal is coming from. Phil and I felt very strongly about supporting the food pantry, an initiative we know will make a difference in the lives of CCRI students and their families. This is the kind of investment that yields short and long-term returns.”
“Many CCRI students face the challenge of food insecurity. These individuals should be able to focus on learning, not hunger. No student should be at risk of leaving school simply because they cannot afford to eat regular, nutritious meals,” added Bob DiMuccio. “I encourage all who are able to donate time or resources to the food pantry and help knock down one more barrier to student welfare and success.”
“Through the financial investment of Kim, Bob and other supporters, the volunteerism and generosity of our faculty, staff and student groups, and through partnerships with local businesses, we look to open food pantries on our campuses in Warwick, Providence and Newport, ensure the shelves are always stocked, and promise our students that they will never be turned away,” added Hughes.
A December U.S. Government Accountability Office report says having a low income is the most common risk factor for food insecurity among college students. Among low-income students, most have one additional risk factor associated with food insecurity, such as being a first-generation student or a single parent, the analysis said.
The report points out the percentage of college students receiving a Pell Grant has nearly doubled since 1999, and that only 29 percent of students are what would be considered “traditional students” – those who are financially dependent on their parents, have no children, enrolled full time immediately after completing high school and are employed part time or less during the school year. The remaining 71 percent are “nontraditional students” who are financially independent from their parents, caring for children, delayed college enrollment or work full time while attending part time.
“Some researchers have suggested that reductions in federal and state funding of higher education relative to the increasing cost of college have coupled with these student demographics to increase the share of college costs borne by students, which can reduce the amount students have to support their basic needs, such as food and housing,” the report said.