NEWARK, N.J. — With the holidays approaching, food pantries are working overtime. It’s a time when many families struggle to make ends meet. That’s especially the case for college students.
For homesick and hungry students, Thanksgiving can’t come soon enough.
“I’m going home and my family is going to feed me, and I’m going to eat great,” said Landy Duchein, a senior marketing student at Rutgers University-Newark.
Duchein works part time in retail, but that doesn’t cover everything.
“The meal plan food isn’t cutting it and, like, I have to cook. But I don’t have a car, and the only place around here is Whole Foods, and, like, who can afford Whole Foods?” Duchein said.
That’s where the pantry comes in, giving students easy access to healthy food.
“They’re able to order their groceries online and come pick them up. We try to keep the wait time like around two minutes for each person so that they can come between classes,” said Hend El Buri, director of nutrition and pantry at Rutgers-Newark.
Food insecurity means the lack of reliable access to nutritious food, and it’s a growing problem among college students.
In New Jersey, about 8% of people are food insecure, but on college campuses that number is far greater, closer to 30%.
So instead of focusing on schoolwork, some students are worried about their next meal.
Elizabeth McCarthy is CEO of the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, which distributes food to 14 college pantries across the state.
“Many kids who drop out of community colleges, it’s more because of expenses like transportation and food than it is tuition,” McCarthy said.
At Kean University in Union, a few miles south of Newark, students order online and pick up their food from refrigerated lockers.
And, yes, the demand has been steadily growing.
“The need is great, because the assumption is, ‘You have money to go to college. Can’t you eat?’ But there may not be anything left over,” said Carla Vitola, Kean’s community care coordinator.
“It’s really important because it kind of helps me make sure I’m eating enough and eating healthily,” Duchein said.
Duchein is about a semester and a half from graduating. Thanks to the Rutgers pantry, they’re focused on their goals, not on groceries.