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Feeding mind and body: OCC food pantry helps struggling students

— When you hear about problems on college campuses, you tend to think of binge drinking, budget cuts or fraternity hazing.

But one of the biggest problems these days is hunger.

A growing population of college students is struggling to make ends meet, unable to make tuition payments and pay for meals. There’s no comprehensive data available, but a City University of New York survey found that “39 percent [of students] had either gone hungry for lack of money, skipped meals, or been unable to afford balanced meals” in 2009.

In order to help its students through the struggle, Onondaga Community College has joined a number of colleges nationwide in starting a food pantry.

“Hundreds of students have come in to take advantage of the pantry,” said pantry coordinator Jerry Farnett, who teaches English at the college. “We have students who come in regularly because their need is constant, and we have students who come in sporadically because their need is sporadic. There are students I see every week.”

The pantry got its start five years ago as a bookshelf with some canned goods and soups in Farnett’s office in the English department.

“Students were coming to me and asking for money because they were hungry. And for a lot of us, of course, we say, ‘Oh, my God, of course, here.’ But eventually, you say, ‘I can’t keep doing this or I’ll be broke,’” Farnett said. “I just had an empty bookshelf, so I put some ramen noodles and some soup and some mac and cheese on it, and with the spirit that exists here, people started saying, ‘Oh, what are you doing?’ And I told them, and they brought in stuff, and it’s just grown from there. It’s been five years. It started with one little thing in my area and it’s expanded.”

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