By Kenzie Bequette/Texan Mosaic
A real-life game of “Would You Rather?” torments some college students on a regular basis. Would you rather get an education in hopes of a better life and brighter future or be able to eat a meal every day? For many students, the answer is to receive a quality education at the expense of their health.
According to a 2017 Wisconsin HOPE Lab survey of over 4,000 community colleges, more than half (52%) of respondents said they were at least marginally food insecure in the last 30 days, meaning they felt anxiety about food sufficiency or shortage of food. More than a quarter (28%) of respondents said they ate smaller meals or skipped meals to save money, and more than one in five (22%) said they had gone hungry due to lack of money.
In Texas alone, the hunger relief organization, feedingtexas.org, reports 13% of households experience food insecurity. The organization explains that 13% translates into 1.4 million Texas households and nearly four million individuals.
What about students here at South Plains College?
SPC began the Texan Food Pantry about five years ago to help meet students’ needs. It is a free resource for current SPC students and staff. Dee Dee Odorizzi, director of the Fitness Complex and associate professor of kinesiology, is the past coordinator of the pantry. She said it began when she witnessed international students struggling during school breaks as they couldn’t go home to receive a decent meal.
“So, I just had a little closet up front that I was storing my equipment that I use for my triathlon,” Odorizzi said. “It is a teeny tiny little closet, and I thought, ‘Well, let’s just get the ball rolling and see what happens.’”
What happened is the pantry grew. While it started in a small closet inside the Fitness Complex, it’s now moved a couple of times for more space and accessibility.
Since July, the SPC Texan Food Pantry has been set up inside the Health and Wellness Center on the Levelland campus. That’s when posters went up around campus showing where the pantry is and how to use it. Since then, Rebecca Canon, the director of Health and Wellness, says use of the pantry has been “busy.”
The most popular items at the food pantry that need to be restocked most often include common items among college students that are either easy to cook or easy to grab on the go.
“Probably the pasta and the breakfast food, actually, like Pop-Tarts and breakfast bars,” Canon said. “Those are the things that people want the most. And then after that it’s canned ravioli and cereal–things they can eat quickly. I’ve had a lot of students with children come in and they need snack things for after school. And what if they don’t have food for supper tonight? And so, we have things that you can just open up and heat just like that. And we have things that you have to cook a little bit, like dried beans and rice, so a lot of variety.”
Canon says there is a pantry at the SPC Downtown Lubbock campus and one in the Lubbock Career and Technology Center. However, there is not currently one at the Reese or Plainview campus. If a student enrolled in one of these campus requests services, Canon says she is more than willing to make arrangements for these needs to be met.
In order to receive supplies from the pantry, Canon says, a student must first fill out a request form. These forms are located on the SPC Health and Wellness website, as well as on flyers posted around campus with a QR code to scan. This request form asks what a person wants, how many members in the household they are trying to provide for, and when and where they would like to pick up items.
The Texan Food Pantry carries not only food items, but also toiletry items such as feminine personal products, soaps and shampoos, deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, laundry detergent, and even small storage containers. Canon also says that if a request for baby items is made, she is willing to go out and get those items but they do not have them in stock at the moment since no one has requested them.
Canon says there is no limit to how many items one can request from the food pantry. A person can specify a location on the request form when picking up items. So, even though a student may be enrolled in the Levelland campus and lives closer to the Lubbock Center, one can request to pick up items there.
Cannon says one of the biggest challenges is keeping the pantry stocked.
On Sept. 29, SPC Dean of Students Dr. Lynne Cleavinger sent an all SPC email requesting donations because pantry supplies began to run low. On the long list of needed items were nonperishables, such as soup and canned fruit, along with hygiene products like toothpaste, and shampoo.
Canon says SPC has visited with the Texas Tech Food Pantry and other programs in Levelland and Lubbock and they plan on expanding the SPC Texan Food Pantry.
Currently, the Health and Wellness office is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Canon says even though the pantry is not open on weekends, if a request is made and needed that day, she can run over and prepare a bag of items.
The request for donations asks anyone wishing to donate items to contact Health and Wellness at 716-2529 to arrange pick-up or drop-off.
“Whatever people want to donate is great,” Canon said.