Food for Thought holds special meaning for some students in Louisiana. An empty stomach can keep you from concentrating on that upcoming math or history test. Visions of a steaming bowl of okra or a slice of pizza can even lead to the final decision to abandon the dream of a career and drop out of school.
College officials are aware that hunger, along with other financial issues, is a problem in colleges across the country. Students may feel hungry due to a particular situation or insecurity. Some suffer from chronic hunger and need support.
To help, Louisiana State University and Southern University of Baton Rouge have set up pantries. They are available to all registered students, including those benefiting from scholarships and foreign exchange programs.
“Pantries want to be sensitive to the type of student needs,” said Michael G. Manning, president and CEO of the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, which provides food and general assistance to food pantries. . The bank delivers food to university pantries every two weeks.
With an operation that covers 100 pantries in an area of 11 parishes, BR Food Bank helps organizations set up pantries, track weight and food delivery.
“We rely on a pantry to tell us what their customers may need or want,” Manning said. “Pantries want to be sensitive to their community’s dietary restrictions and what they normally eat.”
In terms of food distribution, the food bank works with many donors including individuals, organizations and commercial enterprises such as Walmart, Albertson’s, Associated Grocers, Rouse’s, Panera Bread and Trader Joe’s.
In addition to LSU and Southern universities, Manning is currently working with Baton Rouge Community College officials to install a pantry there as well.
“Students don’t always want to talk about their hunger issues,” he says. “There are a lot of single parents trying to make their way through college. Some of these students have parents living with their grandparents.
Manning said the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation have led to an increase in the number of people seeking help.
“Hunger is a tough subject,” Manning explained. “We find that there are two main approaches to approaching the subject. Some are embarrassed and don’t want to talk at all. Others become championship cases. They become championship stories and talk about how they won.
Each pantry is conveniently located on campus and available five days a week. Pantries do not cook or serve meals. Instead, boxes of nutritious non-perishable foods are collected and made available to those who visit the pantry.
Items available may include canned goods such as peas, beans and corn as well as packaged dried items including rice. macaroni and cereal.
Manning said one of the most popular products is peanut butter. “It’s great for kids, high in protein and does a lot,” he said.
The LSU Food Pantry is located on the first floor of the Student Union in an area that once housed a bowling alley. It is easily accessible and is open Monday to Friday. Students are required to visit the university’s website foodpantry.LSU.edu.
Students fill out a form and indicate the day and time they will pick up their food, then send this information back to the pantry. Volunteer staff members and student volunteers (some taking volunteer service time) help set up pantry shelves and prepare food. Participating students can bring bags to carry their food or use the one provided by the pantry.
Cedric Noel, director of the Southern Student Union and Event Center, said Jaguars Eats, the official name of the university’s pantry, is located in room 128 on the first floor of the Student Union.
“It’s easily accessible from either side of the hallway,” he says. “It’s totally student-run.”
“We try to make the pantry experience as easy and enjoyable as possible,” Noel said. “We try to remove all possible barriers for students. We restock every other Friday and try to find what students would like. We know that protein spoils faster and carbohydrates are generally dry goods.”
Southern students are given a bag and can take as many as they want.
“We weigh the bag and give the weight and send it to the food bank once a month. We always include a few bottles of water.” Noel said, adding that students from the South may visit Jaguars Eats more than once a day or may come more than once a month.
Students aren’t the only ones struggling to put food on the table and make ends meet in East Baton Rouge Parish. According to the ALICE report for the latest Louisiana data, in 2018, 15% of family incomes are below the federal poverty level and 37% are ALICE (an acronym that stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed). In other words, more than half of the families in the parish (52%) work but earn wages that are not enough to meet basic household needs (housing, childcare, food, transport, health care and basic smartphone package).