NSU Food Pantry Providing Meals For Students Struggling Financially

Wednesday, May 21st 2014, 10:56 pm
By: News On 6

There are currently 11 million full-time undergraduate students hitting the books in hopes of getting a good job, and, many of them are taking out loans and getting into massive debt. One Green Country university is helping students with something many take for granted, food.

The College Board estimates tuition and fees at four year public universities increased 27 percent in the last five years. That doesn't include living expenses or food.

About 60 percent of students who earned Bachelor's degrees in 2011-2012 graduated with debt. They borrowed an average of $26,500.

Making sure students have enough to eat is the focus of a new program at NSU in Tahlequah. It's one of only a few dozen across the country where students are helping fellow students.

Linda Skinner, 28, is in her first year at Northeastern State University, with a full freshman course load.

"It is something I really wanted to do, go to college. I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to get an education," Skinner said.

That education doesn't come cheap. The College Board said the average tuition price, alone, at a public University like NSU is close to $9,000 a year.

"I am overwhelmed with the loan process. I had to take out the max so I could live," said Skinner.

Skinner takes classes five days a week and doesn't have a car. Those two things alone make having a job next to impossible.

When she graduates, she expects to be at least $40,000 in debt, even though NSU has the second lowest tuition among the state's public universities.

"I want to have financial ground and retirement, but I don't want to have to worry where my next meal is going to come from for the rest of my life," Skinner said.

NSU Senior Ethan Hayman didn't want her to worry either.

"I assumed there were students that needed help, but I never thought it would be this high," he said.

Many students on financial aid can only afford minimal campus meal plans, so last fall, Hayman, with the support of NSU, officially opened the campus food pantry.

"I thought I'm pretty well off as far as others are concerned, so I'm sure there are a lot of other students still having that struggle at the end of the month," Hayman said.

He said the food pantry has everything a student would need to have a balanced diet.

Since September, the 132 square foot room has fed more than 80 NSU students, like Skinner, and their dependents.

"There are days I wouldn't have ate if I didn't come to the food pantry," she said.

"A lot of times they can be rather emotional about it and that can be hard to see sometimes," said Hayman. "It says a lot that you can still go to class, study and work, and not know where your next meal is coming from."

The pantry holds a little bit of everything, including hygiene and toiletries, all donated by students and area businesses.

"I think it is extremely important for colleges to emphasize the importance of giving back and helping one another," Hayman said.