ENGLEWOOD — It’s simple math: a homework assignment plus an empty stomach equals an inability to concentrate. And if it persists, that inability to concentrate can have longterm consequences.
According to a 2016 study of low-income college students, 53 percent of students facing food insecurity and housing instability have missed class; 54 percent have missed important study sessions and 55 percent did not purchase textbooks.
Food insecurity also has psychological effects. Students feel less engaged, less welcomed by instructors and staff. And while financial aid and a good on-campus job may seem like the solution, research has shown that neither of those things have helped struggling students at all.
This year, the City Colleges of Chicago is trying a more direct approach. They’re opening on-site food pantries at a majority of their locations. Partnering with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, each outpost is staffed by student volunteers and stocked with fresh produce, canned goods and other staples necessary for a balanced meal.
Kennedy-King College’s food pantry, 6301 S. Halsted St., has been open for three weeks and the response has been “wonderful,” according to Remona Gavin, assistant to the dean of student services.
“The word of mouth is really getting out, so they’re coming in and grabbing food. The students are very amazed by how well it’s structured, and how good the products are,” she said.
Typically when people think of food pantries, they think of unkempt spaces with low-quality offerings, said Gavin, which is why it was important for the space to be welcoming, well-lit, and stocked with products one could get from a Whole Foods.
The pantry, which is open two days a week, sees an average of 25 students a day, from those looking for a quick snack to tide them over until the next class, to others who may need a week’s worth of groceries to get them through.
It’s a lifeline for students like Andreas Oliver, a second year psychology student who lives in Bronzeville.
“You get eggs and that’s like, a hot commodity,” said Oliver, who was visiting the pantry for the first time since learning of it last week. “And they have a lot of very selective items that you wouldn’t think they have.”
Oliver said he was able to get enough to feed his family of four, and that it’s likely he’d return if necessary.
The Greater Chicago Food Depository has sought out additional funding from a private donor in order to help the schools with what they need, according to Kelsie Kliner, the organization’s associate director of youth services.
“On average, the schools are spending about $1,000 a month,” Kliner said.
The colleges are incorporating classes into the program as well. Those attending Kennedy-King’s Washburne Culinary Institute will hold monthly food demonstrations, creating easy-to-make meal ideas using products from the pantry.
With the exception of City Colleges of Chicago’s Olive-Harvey campus — which is expected to open their pantry next month at 10001 S. Woodlawn Ave. — students attending any location will have access to an on-site food pantry.
Meeting students where they are gives them a greater chance of success, said Michael Johns, director of student activities.
“We know there are a lot of barriers that students face, and if there’s any way we can intervene by providing support mechanisms for them, they’ll become better students and better citizens of the Englewood community,” he said.
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