The University of Massachusetts Boston announced that it will open an on-campus food pantry next week, in an effort to serve students who cannot afford to buy food.
The pantry is being launched by the college’s Office of Urban and Off-Campus Support Services Program, which serves about 70 students. Nearly half of them are either homeless or on the verge of homelessness, said Shirley Fan-Chan, the program’s director.
While only a small number have come forward saying they have trouble affording food, Fan-Chan said she believes the need is greater.
“I don’t think this is something that is rare,” she said of poverty among college students. “It has been existing, and we haven’t been talking about it.”
Fan-Chan said the food pantry service is a first for UMass Boston and may be the first of its kind in Massachusetts. The service is important, she said, because students often work after class and are unable to visit food pantries during the day.
Her students often do not qualify for food stamps, Fan-Chan added, because they are still considered legally dependent on their parents. But many tell Fan-Chan that they have been living on their own since high school.
“It definitely breaks your heart because we are talking about students who have gotten so far,” she said. “We don’t want them to fail.”
Patrick Day, vice chancellor for student affairs at UMass Boston, said that amid the broader discussion of hunger issues the college student population is often overlooked.
“We’re anticipating the need [for food] because we know it’s here, because we’ve heard about it anecdotally for so many years,” Day said.
He also said that this issue is not restricted to UMass Boston.
“This is not a phenomenon of any one university,” Day said. “This is everybody.”
Fan-Chan said that most of the donations are from UMass Boston faculty and staff, some of whom have sent e-mails saying that they experienced poverty when they were in college.
Faculty and staff “are saying that when I was a college student I lived in my car and ate whatever I can afford,” she said. “It has happened all along.”
In December, Fan-Chan’s office ran a pilot program and distributed 20 “food bags” to students who were in need. “There has been a very good response,” she said. “And that’s why we’ve decided to go full-scale.”
The college will hand out 100 food bags, with items such as tuna, pasta, and peanut butter. Students who have children or others in their household will be given more food, Fan-Chan said. The food is enough for one or two weeks worth of meals, she said.
Fan-Chan also said she is hopeful the program will reach out to other students who are unable to afford food.
“I think the support from the UMass Boston community is tremendous because they get it,” she said. “They understand that some of these students have been through a lot to get onto this higher education track, and they don’t want them to fail. They want them to succeed.”