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Financially Struggling College Students Turn to Food Banks

For years, the small University District pantry, just blocks from the University of Washington, has offered help to the working poor and single parents in this neighborhood of campus rentals. Now rising food prices are bringing another group to the food bank: Struggling college students.

“Right now, with things the way they are, a lot of students just can’t afford to eat,” says Terry Capleton, who started a Facebook group called “I Ain’t Afraid to be on Food Stamps” when he was a student at Benedict College in South Carolina.

Some of the students are working their way through college with grants, loans and part-time jobs.

“More and more, it’s just the typical traditional student, about 18 to 22, that’s feeling this crunch,” says Larry Brickner-Wood, director of the Cornucopia Food Pantry at the University of New Hampshire.

“There’s definitely been an increase in usage and demand. We’re seeing more and more students that have never used the pantry before.”

In the past year, the price of groceries has jumped nearly 5 percent, the greatest increase in nearly two decades. The cost of some staples has shot up by more than 30 percent.

At the University District pantry in Seattle, demand has risen roughly 25 percent this year. About 150 students visit each week during the school year.

Membership in Capleton’s Facebook group has steadily climbed, too, and sparked other online groups with names such as “I’m in College and I got on Food Stamps.”

The Community College of Denver runs its own food-assistance program, which has seen demand double in the past year. “It’s the highest I’ve ever seen,” says Jerry Mason, the school’s director of student life. “Our assumption is it’s because of the high price of food.”

In response to demand, the school doubled the pantry’s $3,000 annual budget.

Food stamps are distributed through a Department of Agriculture program administered by the states. But the agency does not track whether applicants are enrolled in college, so the number of students is unknown.

Students generally are eligible for food stamps if they qualify for a state or federally funded work-study program, work at least 20 hours per week, have a child under the age of 12, or are taking employersponsored job training classes.

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