"A hidden crisis": Fighting food insecurity on college campuses

BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - Many college students don't get enough to eat.

Researchers point to rising school costs and inadequate financial aid packages.

A University of Maine at Augusta student is hoping her pilot project will help.

We sat down with her Thursday to learn more about Food for Thought.

"I'm a full time student and part time tutor."

Hannah Wheelock's schedule is typically busy, juggling classes and work all while helping her fellow students with their course loads.

"But when students would come in, they couldn't focus. So I would bring in granola bars, my boss would bring in granola bars, and I would notice that people were reluctant to take that at first."

That caused her to dig a little deeper.

"Then I started asking probing questions. Are you eating before you come in? And I'm finding out, no. How many meals do you get to eat a day? And I'm being told one."

These students aren't necessarily avoiding the dining hall. They're skipping meals, or eating smaller meals, because they don't have enough money for food.

"So it was really being on the front lines there in the tutoring center where I discovered a lot of individuals are struggling this way."

According to a recent study conducted by Temple University and the Wisconsin Hope Lab, 36% of students at 66 surveyed colleges and universities struggle with food insecurity.

"Which gave me the feeling like, let's take charge, let's do something right here for the students."

Food for Thought is a pilot project offering toiletries, canned goods, and produce for students in need.

"We're going to collect a little bit of data on what the need is what sort of products do students really want to see here over the summer and will have a grand opening in September."

Hundreds of schools across the nation have recently launched these sorts of pantries.

But it's doing more than providing a much needed meal or snack.

"There's a better sense of community within the students because folks are reaching out to destigmatize it."

Having an open dialogue and an open door with no judgement.

Something she hopes will continue well past graduation.

"Takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable for that minute, but when you do reach out, there's a wonderful community here that will reach back."

A soft opening for the pantry will be held Monday from 11:45 to 1 at Lewiston Hall on the UMA campus in Bangor.

For more information contact UMA Student Life at 262-7817.