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Hunger remains prevalent among college students in New York

ASEEM SHULKA, HOST: Last week, the New York City Council passed two resolutions that would expand food access for college students. According to a study at CUNY’s School of Public Health, CUNY students are at least 2 times more food insecure than the average American. That means they’re less likely to have reliable access to nutritious food. Will Walkey reports on why hunger remains so prevalent for college students in New York City.

WILL WALKEY, BYLINE: When you picture a college student, the image of the broke 20-something surviving off ramen noodles and Kraft Mac. N Cheese might come to mind. But for Angelica Duran, struggling for consistent access to food is her daily reality. She’s a student at LaGuardia Community College in Queens. And she uses her campus food pantry three times a month.

ANGELICA DURAN: I need it. I need food to eat. I have to pay rent.

WALKEY: Duran is a single mom. Today, she’s at the pantry picking up a sweatshirt for her grandmother. The pantry also provides clothes and toiletries. Duran says she struggles to pay bills. There’s child care, her Metro Card, and clothing. Often, food is the last thing Duran considers buying. Even if she wanted to apply for SNAP, formerly food stamps, she says the application process is too difficult.

DURAN: I never have time you have to take the day off to go to the centers and apply. And I have to work so I can’t take days off.

WALKEY: As a single mom, Duran would qualify for SNAP. But unless they have kids, most students have to work 20 hours a week to be eligible. And that can be a struggle. Patricia Lamberson of CUNY’s School of Public Health says those 20 hours are a barrier that keeps many students from even trying to find benefits. Currently, just one fifth of food insecure college students use SNAP.

PATRICIA LAMBERSON: You know the first thing you see where you go onto the SNAP site is that college students arent eligible unless you work 20 hours a week. So then a lot of students don’t go any further than that. They just say “ok, I’m not eligible.”

WALKEY: But the City Council’s new resolutions would allow for student’s classroom hours to qualify as employment. And it would let students join an existing program that lets New Yorkers use their SNAP benefits to buy food at participating delis and restaurants. That’s meant to solve another problem: some students don’t have access to a kitchen because they live in homeless shelters.

Back at the food pantry, Rhonda Mouton taking inventory. She’s surrounded by metal shelves filled with canned foods. In one corner is a freezer with frozen peas and burritos. She helps manage donations from food banks and nonprofits, and says she serves over 5,000 students per year.

RHONDA MOUTON: The Applesauce cause they can just eat that is really popular. Salmon is really popular. Anything pasta, beans and soup.

WALKEY: A range of students use the pantry. There are single moms like Duran, who’ve never had to skip a meal and only rely on the pantry for some help. But there are students in much more serious situations. A survey from CUNY’s Hope Center shows that just over a quarter of CUNY students often have to skip meals and are at a greater risk of dropping out of school.

MOUTON: If you’re here in a classroom setting for more than 4 hours and you don’t have a meal, you know and who knows what their sleeping arrangements are. That would definitely impact you in your performance and able to take tests and study and be effective in your classroom.

WALKEY: She says she hopes the new resolutions will increase participation in the program. But she doesn’t expect it to solve everything. In the meantime, she’s stocking the shelves getting for school next week. Will Walkey. Columbia Radio News.


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