Southwest Colorado Community College is opening pantries at both its campuses to help prevent the starving college student cliche from being a reality.
About three in four students in the Pueblo Community College system, which include campuses in Durango and Mancos, didn’t have access to enough food during a six-month period, a 2014 survey found.
At 10 community colleges nationwide, about half the students reported not having enough food, a University of Wisconsin-Madison study found.
To help address the need, SCCC’s west campus opened its Panther Student Pantry on Thursday.
Automotive student Billy Paul Bailey, 21, was among the first to use the service. The unemployed student is from a family of seven that relies mainly on his father’s income.
“We buy the basic necessities and then deal without,” he said.
He expects the free pantry will benefit many. About 45 percent of the students who attend the Pueblo Community College system live below the poverty line, said Amy Matthew, a spokeswoman for the college.
The food pantry at the Pueblo campus has shown the need is real, distributing about 3,000 pounds of food per month.
That’s one of the reasons SCCC’s Executive Dean Tonya Nelson wanted to open pantries on her campuses for students.
“We’re hoping when their stomachs are full they learn better,” she said.
She hopes the pantry on the Durango campus will open before the end of the semester.
Manna Soup Kitchen donated the food to open the food pantries initially. In the future, Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado will be providing food free to the pantry, said Kiesa Howell, a student success specialist.
For younger students and their families, the Mancos School District opened a pantry in September, said Janet Fogel, the food service director.
About 63 percent of the district’s students are eligible for free and reduced lunch.
“That’s a pretty big number of families that can’t afford food,” she said.
The district had been sending food home with students since 2011-12 in their backpacks. But some of the younger students weren’t taking the food because it was so heavy.
“We were finding the kids were just leaving them at school,” she said.
Now anyone is welcome to come to the pantry once a week for food. It is serving 60 to 80 adults and about 120 students per month.