As college students head back to campus, millions will face the very real fear of how to put food on the table. Nearly 40-percent of undergrads across the country are low-income. Finding money for food and housing while also paying for their education is a huge challenge. It’s why we have on-campus pantries at many regional colleges and universities, to help meet this basic need.  

Carissa O’Dell is working toward a bright future. She’s studying liberal arts and sign language at Johnson Co. Community College. She’s also juggling life as a single mom and working part-time on campus. 

“Being a parent and going to school full-time is super hard. I have to struggle with doing my homework and now, my daughter’s in preschool so I also have to help her do her homework as well.  Then I do part-time here and that’s the only work that I have right now,” said O’Dell. 

Carissa can’t work more hours, or she would risk losing income-based federal student grants. So the Student Basic Needs Center at JCCC hasn’t just given her a job, it’s also been a lifeline to help feed her family. 

“I didn’t even know this center existed until I started working here and I was like, wow, this is really amazing,” O’Dell said. “Steve [JCCC Student Basic Needs Center Coordinator Steven Franklin] worked really hard to get the fridge and freezer as well so we can provide more food.  We have produce and we have pet food now.  The whole school has just helped a lot.” 

A recent Harvesters refrigeration grant makes that possible. 

“I know I get a lot of the lunch meat and the cheeses because I like sandwiches and my daughter loves the hot dogs,” said O’Dell. 

Park University offers a similar service called Pirate Pantry. Students can pick up needed food and toiletries. The college knows the basics are needed to help students succeed. 

“We all know that it’s, the hierarchy of needs includes food, shelter, and clothing So if students are trying to use the best of their minds and the best of their bodies, we need to get them all those food groups. We’ve learned from a young age to do proteins and do grains, but also do fruits and vegetables and that’s not just grains of Ramen noodles. So we go through a lot of beans. Our international students especially like rice and beans. We go through lots of cans of tuna and we encourage them and want them to do that,” said Dr. Jayme Uden, Park University association vice president dean of students. 

Carissa looks forward to the day when she no longer needs the pantry. But for now, she’s grateful it’s keeping her family fed and healthy.  

“It’s made a lot of difference. I can fill my fridge now. My daughter’s not asking for food constantly because we have it in the house now,” said O’Dell. 

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