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UMass Boston opens pantry for students who cannot afford food

Posted by Your Town  February 19, 2013 04:59 PM

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The University of Massachusetts Boston announced that will it open an on-campus food pantry next week, in an effort to serve its population of students who cannot afford to buy food.

The effort is being launched by the college’s Office of Urban and Off-Campus Support Services (U-ACCESS), which serves about 70 students. More than 10 percent of them have trouble affording food and more than 45 percent are either homeless or on the verge of homelessness, according to Shirley Fan-Chan, the office’s director.

“I don’t think this is something that is rare,” Fan-Chan said of poverty among college-aged students. “It has been existing, and we haven’t been talking about it.”

UMass Boston is one of many colleges confronting campus hunger. Bunker Hill Community College opened a food pantry last spring.

The reason this service is important, Fan-Chan said, is because these students often work after class, and therefore are unable to visit food pantries during the day.

Her students often do not qualify for food stamps, Fan-Chan added, because they are still considered legally dependent on their parents. But many of these students tell Fan-Chan that they have been living on their own since high school.

“It definitely breaks your heart because we are talking about students who have gotten so far,” she said. “We don’t want them to fail.”

Patrick Day, the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at UMass Boston, said that when talking about hunger issues, the college student population is often overlooked.

“We’re anticipating the need [for food] because we know it’s here, because we’ve heard about it anecdotally for so many years,” Day said.

He also said that this issue is not restricted to UMass Boston.

“This is not a phenomenon of any one university,” Day said. “This is everybody.”

Fan-Chan said that most of the donations are from UMass Boston faculty and staff, some of whom have sent e-mails saying that they experienced poverty when they were in college.

“[Faculty and staff] are saying that when I was a college student I lived in my car, and ate whatever I can afford,” she said. “It has happened all along.”

In December, U-ACCESS ran a pilot program, and distributed 20 “food bags” to students who are in need.

“There has been a very good response,” she said. “And that’s why we’ve decided to go full-scale.”

U-ACCESS will hand out 100 food bags, with items such as tuna, pasta, and peanut butter. Students who have children or others in their household will be given more food, Fan-Chan said. The food is enough for one or two weeks worth of meals, she said.

Fan-Chan also said she is hopeful the program will reach out to other students who are unable to afford food. She has already received requests from students who do not participate in U-ACCESS.

“I think the support from the UMass Boston community is tremendous because they get it,” she said. “They understand that some of these students have been through a lot to get onto this higher education track, and they don’t want them to fail. They want them to succeed.”

Katherine Landergan can be reached at klandergan@globe.com. For campus news updates, follow her on Twitter @klandergan.

Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

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