College students: To eat or not to eat?

As if getting a degree was not difficult enough already, recent studies show that as the price of college increases, so does the rate of hunger and homelessness among college students in the United States.

Coordinator of Civic Engagement at Coastal Carolina University Elaine Giles explained that because of this, many students are being faced with an impossible decision.

“I think folks often have to make the choice of, do I use my financial aid money or do I use scholarships or loans to pay for books, to pay for my tuition or do I use that for living expenses,” said Giles. “I think sometimes, unfortunately, students have to make that difficult decision of, should I do well academically or do I eat today?”

The average cost of tuition at a four-year university has more than doubled in the last 30 years, increasing from a yearly tuition of $8,238 to $18,632, according to The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

With the constantly climbing costs combined with the decreasing amount of coverage from Pell grants, which were first implemented in the 1970s to aid low-income students in paying for college, it is no surprise that food and house insecurity among students continues to be a detrimental problem.

In fact, when they were first introduced, Pell grants covered 75 percent of college costs. Today, they cover a measly 30 percent. Additionally, two-thirds of current recipients grew up in households that fall below 150 percent of the federal poverty line.

A study by the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness surveyed 3765 students in 34 different institutions across 12 states in October 2016. The study found that 48 percent of students reported experiencing food insecurity in the previous 30 days, 22 percent of those qualifying as hungry.

Unfortunately, those students who experience food insecurity also often experience housing insecurity.

Of those 1800 students that reported experiencing food insecurity, 64 percent also reported experiencing housing insecurity, with 15 percent reporting experiencing “some form of homelessness in the past 12 months.”

These outside factors tend to weigh heavily on the success of low-income college students. In fact, the NCES found that only 14 percent of students from the bottom 20 percent of household incomes completed a bachelor’s degree or higher within eight years of graduation.

In response to the growing number of food insecure students, universities and colleges across America are beginning to offer food pantries and other resources.

Coastal Carolina University is no exception.

The CINO Pantry was first established in the fall of 2012 by an FYE class and, at the time, was housed in UP. Unfortunately, according to Giles, after the students graduated it became dormant.

In the fall of 2015, the pantry reopened in the Lib Jackson Student Union and remains there today.

“When I heard they were transitioning, there were still students that would seek out the CINO pantry for those resources,” said Giles.

Free to all students, faculty and staff, the pantry is open Monday through Friday.

Giles explained that all are welcome to stop by at any time. The process is simple.

“Students, faculty and staff can come in and say, ‘I’d like to visit the pantry,’” said Giles. “We get the visitors to fill out a form just explaining the CINO Pantry and recognizing that there is a risk. It’s a liability waiver. Then, they go in and take what they need. When they’re done, they just let us know that they finished up in the pantry. They can come visit as much and as often as they’d like.”

The CINO pantry is not going un-utilized. In the fall of 2016, Giles said that 34 students visited the pantry. She added that there are likely other students who needed the services, but did not know that Coastal offered them or were unaware of where they were located.

During homecoming week, Coastal holds a can drive event called Can-struct. Giles explained that it is these donations that supply the majority of goods in the pantry.

“We have a lot of canned vegetables and canned fruit and canned soup,” said Giles. “A lot of that comes comes from the Coastal Can-struct event that happens during homecoming week. We’re actually still going off of Can-struct donations from 2015.”

Currently, the pantry only accepts shelf stable food such as cereal, protein bars, pasta, shelf stable milk and meats. In the future, Giles hopes to have the resources that are able to accommodate for other goods.

“One day I would love to see the pantry expanded to where we have a fridge and can take other things or we have a community garden and can actually do fresh produce,” said Giles. “I think that would be really cool, knowing that what our pantry has now isn’t really high in nutritional value.”

If you would like to donate goods to the pantry, Giles explained that it is best to contact her first to make sure they have room. Her email is egiles@coastal.edu.

There are also opportunities to donate to the local food pantries, such as Catholic Charities located directly across from University Suites.

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