EPCC, UTEP fight student hunger with food pantries

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EL PASO — One in four college students does not have enough to eat according to the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness. College food pantries help students cope with food insecurity.

“A lot of students are going hungry, a lot of them live paycheck to paycheck and we wanted to address this issue by opening a food pantry.” said Bryan Mena, president of the El Paso Community College student government association. “We want to make sure every student knows that it’s an option for them.”

In the past five years, student government at both EPCC and the University of Texas at El Paso’s created their own on campus food pantries to offer free food to students and staff in need.

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Miguel Archuleta demonstrates how he puts together a box of food for students in need at the Tejano Food Pantry at the Valle Verde EPCC campus. Photo by Catherine Ramirez, Borderzine.com

The EPCC and UTEP pantries offer a variety of nonperishable food items for their students and staff ranging from canned meats, beans, soup, cereal, to a variety of canned vegetables.

“A lot of the items that they take tend to be with nutrients of protein,” said Karen Barraza, UTEP graduate assistant and supervisor of the UTEP food pantry. “Whenever we get canned meats, canned chicken that tends to go fast.”

UTEP students only need a valid student ID to gain access to the food pantry.

“It always depends on what the person needs, but we do state to them ‘please be considerate’ because other students do utilize the service and we rely solely on donations,” Barraza said.

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Karen Barraza works the UTEP Food Pantry located in Memorial Gym.

Both college pantries also offer a variety of personal hygiene items such as shampoo, tooth brushes, toothpaste, body wash, as well as tampons and pads.

Students who want to use the pantry at EPCC have to demonstrate financial need by filling out an application at the Student Government Association in Building C at the Valle Verde campus to

“You fill out your name, ID number and include how many hosts such as people that live in your house and how many children under 18,” said Miguel Archuleta, Tejano Food Pantry clerk. “We are here to help you (students) the food pantry is for all EPCC students.”

More than 32,000 students are enrolled and attend classes at EPCC’s eight campus locations but on average only 15 students a month use the college’s Tejano Food Pantry. During the fall 2018 semester the Tejano Food Pantry served a total of 61 students according to Mena.

In order to get the word out about college food pantries EPCC and UTEP student government bodies have used flyers, posters and held fundraising events such food drives to encourage students to use the college pantries.

“Several students have said they think the food pantry’s donations are for shelters, or other organizations and not for students,” Mena said.

“Students who have a need for food often have a need for other resources and services, they might be homeless and need a place to stay,” said Catie McCorry-Andalis, associate vice president and dean of students at UTEP. “So we are going to start connecting all those services.”

An estimated 200 students of the 25,000 enrolled use the UTEP food pantry each month. The UTEP Dean of Students’ office, which oversees the pantry, is currently collecting more data about how many students use the food pantry and what items they tend to select to better understand the needs of students.

“If you’re not taking care of the most basic necessities, which is food, housing and security that’s really challenging for anything else you’re trying to do, especially degree completion,” McCorry-Andalis said.

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