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NOVA college food pantry helps students dealing with food insecurity meet basic needs

A food pantry at Northern Virginia Community College is helping feed food insecure students. I spoke with one student who told me she gets HALF of her weekly meals from here. Tuesday, April 17, 2018 (Victoria Sanchez/ABC7)

A new survey of college students shows more than a third don’t always have enough to eat, turning the starving college student stereotype into a hard reality for some undergraduates.

Northern Virginia Community College has food pantries at all of its campuses to help students and their families get the food they need.

The Wisconsin HOPE Lab assessed the basic needs of students in its third national survey. The report including information from 43,000 students at 66 campuses in 20 states and in Washington D.C.

Samuella Kanu, 24, is an accounting student at the NOVA Annandale campus. She gets half of her weekly meals from the food pantry.

“I’m going to get the Frosted Flakes because it’s my favorite. Normally they have sizes like this which can last for a very long time,” she said as she put a box in her bag.

Kanu picks out cereal, soup, pasta and peanut butter. All items she can get for free to take home.

“And you know you don’t have to give nothing in return for them. You just take whatever you want to take, as much as you want to take and it’s all yours,” she said with a smile.

Kanu is among the 42 percent of community college students and 36 percent of university students that say they are food insecure and often go hungry, according to HOPE Lab.

Those numbers are staggering to fellow classmates.

“I grew up abroad, came here and was like, ‘Oh, everyone is probably well-to-do here.’ And then, a community college has a basic food problem. It was very shocking to me,” said Alisha Saiyed.

Saiyed is a member of the NOVA Rotaract Club that runs the pantry. She says many of the students who get food are single moms and dads.

“If you’re hungry, you can’t focus on your classes, you can’t focus on your work,” she said.

Some members of the campus club know what it’s like to be forced to skip meals.

“My involvement also is a reminder for me that I also struggled at one time in my life with food insecurity,” said student Miriam Tran.

Tran now speaks up for others and tries to make them feel comfortable asking for help.

“There’s a stigma that people have, the fear that other people will judge you because you feel a level of inadequacy,” she said.

Kanu says she’s appreciative of the weekly bag of food that she and other students get. She says it helps her study so she can complete her degree.

“We don’t want to ever think about it not being here,” she said.

Many of the food pantry donations come from faculty and food drives. The program is looking for more help. If you’d like to donate, sign up to become a NOVA Food Ambassador.

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