Food Pantry provides food for thought

Bobby Kirkpatrick knows what it is like to be homeless and hungry. Last fall found him sitting in the lower level of the Center Building, in the midst of the smells of the food court, watching other students eat while he struggled to concentrate and do his homework. Then a friend told him about the Rainy Day Food Pantry. Now, Kirkpatrick not only gets enough to eat, he makes sure others do too.

This year, Kirkpatrick serves as the ASLCC Sustainability Coordinator. He manages the pantry, a supplemental source of food for Lane students, located in the Lower Level of the Center Building. The pantry is open Wednesdays 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. and Thursdays 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Currently enrolled Lane students are eligible to receive food for themselves and their dependents. Donations are handed out by food pantry staff according to need and what is available.

Sustainability, defined on Lane’s website as “integrating practices that support and improve the health of systems that sustain life,” is a core value at Lane. Many Lane students struggle with hunger, which affects not only their health but their ability to learn.

“Being hungry affects your ability to process, it affects your brain in addition to your body,” Andrea Baughman, part-time credit instructor for Computer Information Technology, said. “They talk about how kids can’t do well in grade school if they have an empty tummy. Well, adults don’t do well in college with an empty tummy either.”

Baughman sees 75 to 100 students each term in her computer fundamentals and web authoring courses. At least 2 to 3 are homeless and many others go hungry, something Baughman believes has a profound effect on their learning. Studies of hunger’s effects on adult learning indicate she is correct.

According to the World Hunger Series published by the UN World Food Programme, hunger in adulthood has a large, immediate impact on the ability to learn through its limiting effects on mental functioning. Hunger makes it difficult to concentrate, master new skills and retain knowledge, limiting the ability to make the most of learning opportunities.

Kirkpatrick experienced this himself, saying “When you’re hungry, you can’t think right. It’s a struggle to focus. It’s cognitive. And, physically, you don’t have enough energy to get through the day.”

His is not an isolated incident. A student of Baughman’s once had a seizure in class, in part because she was homeless and said she had not eaten in three days. This may be an extreme example, but food insecurity is not uncommon at Lane.

The USDA defines food insecurity as a condition whereby “consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.” Month-by-month usage data provided by the food pantry indicate up to 500 students and their dependents make use of their services during a given month.

October is the busiest month of the year for the food pantry, in part because many Lane students become ineligible for food assistance through the Oregon Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program if they are full-time students. Although eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis, students who fail to qualify for Work Study, or are unable to work at least 20 hours per week in a paying position, become ineligible for SNAP benefits. Many full-time students cannot meet the eligibility requirements and end up using financial aid on food, a solution that may not be sustainable.

Many also blame themselves for their hunger, which can interfere with their willingness to seek help. Kirkpatrick is striving to change this, saying, “Quite frankly, asking for help is hard. Going to the food pantry is like saying you can’t take care of yourself. But, if you ask for help, it’s easier to find a way to fix it.”

The pantry can really use items like boxed macaroni and cheese and microwaveable options like: soup, oatmeal, or ramen noodles. Small meals in a bowl that can be easily carried are also encourage.

Many recipients ride the bus and can only take what they can carry, regardless of need.