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Starving Students? An Unfortunate Trend on College Campuses

The Harvest Share at Portland State University provides fresh fruits and vegetables to students. (Oregon Food Bank)
The Harvest Share at Portland State University provides fresh fruits and vegetables to students. (Oregon Food Bank)
July 24, 2017

PORTLAND, Ore. – Hiding in plain sight on college campuses in Oregon are students who aren't sure where their next meal is coming from.

Surveys at the University of Oregon, Oregon State and Portland State University have found that more than half of students at all three schools are considered food insecure.

Jessica Cole, the associate director of the Center for Student Health and Counseling at Portland State, says going hungry deeply affects a student's life and hurts them academically, but is often accepted as normal.

"There's sort of an expectation that university students, community college students, that it's kind of a rite of passage to have to live off of ramen noodles or things like that," she says. "And that's just not acceptable anymore."

In response, many colleges have opened up food pantries. PSU also hosts Harvest Share, a partnership between the Committee for Improving Student Food Security and Oregon Food Bank that offers fresh produce on the second Monday of the month.

But the choices for University of Oregon students are more limited. A food pantry at Saint Mary's Episcopal Church is open only one day a week for two hours.

Taylor West, an undergraduate coordinator at 'U of O,' recently attended FEAST, which stands for "Food, Education, Agriculture, Solutions Together," a brainstorming session organized by Oregon Food Bank. She says the group is working on opening Saint Mary's pantry longer, and other inventive ideas, such as establishing a ride-share service.

"It would be an opportunity to gather students who could then carpool to affordable grocery stores that might be more on the outskirts of campus or farther from campus, and difficult to access if you don't have a car," she notes.

West says ride shares could also be helpful for the many international students in search of more culturally-relevant foods and ingredients. Other ideas are a free produce drop-off site and workshops on cooking, gardening and budgeting.

Cole says it's important to reduce the stigma associated with seeking out food assistance. And like U-of-O students, she says PSU 's Financial Wellness Center is highlighting budgeting for college.

"Trying to educate students on the realistic costs of being in college, what you really need to pay attention to, and then how to help reduce the stress level that comes with trying to make ends meet," adds Cole.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR