CHICAGO (CBS) — When you send your kids off to college, you want them to have everything they need – housing, books, a new laptop.
But did you ever think food might be an issue?
As CBS 2’s Jim Williams reported Sunday night, the report Hunger on Campus found up to half of U.S. college students report food insecurity. The University of Illinois at Chicago is tackling the problem head-on with a pop-up food pantry for students.
Green beans, cereal, milk, eggs – they’re foods you would find in most kitchens. But for many students, food and tough times don’t always go together.
“It is an issue, to be honest,” said one student, Guy.
“I was laid off from a job,” said another, Jenna Walters.
“I’ve been to many food pantries,” said a student named Lilli.
“We all fall on hard times,” Walters added.
The UIC Pop-Up Pantry is a lifeline that has been connecting students with food since 2014. Carol Petersen, director of the UIC Wellness Center, co-founded the pantry after a hungry student told her a startling story.
“That morning, he was reaching for a box of cereal,” Petersen said, “and as he was reaching for that box of cereal, his mom was like: ‘No, you have to leave that. That’s all we have in the house. You have to leave that for your little sister.’”
That led to the food pantry – a place where students can come in, following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, and select items for free to feed their stomachs. But that’s not all.
“If you’re a food-insecure student, that means you’re not eating,” Petersen said. “You’re not getting the fuel that your brain needs.”
Students learn about the pantry from faculty or each other. But UIC is also proactive, surveying incoming students to see whether food insecurity is a concern.
“Ninety percent of the students who are filling out that survey are saying that there’s zero to five food items in their own pantry,” Petersen said.
The pantry’s mission is to transform those troubling numbers into success.
“We’re feeding future leaders. I see it as we’re feeding future decision-makers,” Petersen said, “and we’re helping our students to achieve now so that once they’re graduated, they’re going to go into a community and they’re going to do really well.”
There’s good food at the pantry, and a lot of gratitude.
“Because of COVID, I needed a source of food,” said Walters, a physical therapy student. “When I heard about this, I was really thankful.”
Petersen even recalls one UIC graduate who returned with a donation check.
“He told me that he had studied and lived in three different countries, and was hungry in three different countries,” she said, “and it was only the United States; the United States was the only country that fed him.”
The pantry gets most of its food from the Greater Chicago Food Depository, and donations from the UIC community. But it can always use more help, so Dr. Ero Aggelopoulou-Amiridis, the wife of UIC’s chancellor, came up with an idea for a cookbook to raise funds.
Recipes were gathered and tested by the school’s College of Applied Health Sciences. They are easy for any student to follow – whether they have a kitchen, just a microwave, or less.