University Of Georgia Students Open Food Pantry

The unemployment rate remains high across the nation and above 10 percent in much of the South. New census data shows young people, those between 18 and 24 years old, are facing some of the highest rates of poverty. Some students at the University of Georgia are reaching out to this group by opening a food pantry on campus. It may sound unusual, but pantries have been popping up on campuses across the country since the recession began.

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The unemployment rate is stubbornly high across the country. New census data shows that young people, those under 24, are facing some of the highest poverty rates and that has led to a rise of food pantries on college campuses.

NPR's Kathy Lohr reports on one effort at the University of Georgia.

KATHY LOHR: Colleges bring to mind images of ivy-covered halls and wealthy students. But that's not necessarily the case. Food pantries are becoming more common on campuses as the effects of the recession drag on.

MEGAN JANASIEWICZ: I think there's definitely more of a need than people actually would think.

LOHR: Megan Janasiewicz helps manage the newly opened food pantry at the University of Georgia started by students. In the first few weeks, more than 200, both graduate and undergraduate, students have visited the pantry looking for staples.

JANASIEWICZ: We do recognize that there are students in our community that are putting down a lot of money and taking out major student loans in this economy and aren't able to rely on their parents because they've either lost a job or just, you know, the parents aren't able to write those checks and they live paycheck-to-paycheck just as much as the students do.

LOHR: Lucio Benzor from Fayetteville, Georgia searches the shelves of the small closet that's become the food pantry in a building across from the student union. It's stocked with chicken soup, cans of tuna, peanut butter and lots of ramen noodles. Benzor says his parents, who owned a small accounting business, are struggling.

LUCIO BENZOR: We're going through bankruptcy right now, so that's a thing, too. So money has been tight.

LOHR: Benzor's shy and says he doesn't want to take too much, but he says he needs the help because of the economy.

BENZOR: It's the fact that my parents and indirectly me - well, directly me just because the Board of Regents has had to raise tuition and institute fees and then - yeah. I've have less to work with. It's frustration.

LOHR: Benzor is paying for college with grants, student loans and he's got a part-time job. He says he'd work more, but he can't get more hours at his work study job.

Travis Lubin also stopped by.

TRAVIS LUBIN: I've got a couple of cans of tuna in here. I've got some cereal, some mashed potatoes, pudding and then just like some crackers and bars and things.

LOHR: Twenty-two-year-old Lubin is a foreign language major with a scholarship that pays most of his tuition. He says he pays for all his expenses - rent, utilities and food.

LUBIN: In this time, just obviously where money is just a lot tighter and people are becoming a lot more mindful of that. It's a really useful thing that people can have where it's just this aid where, you know, again, something simple like just some ramen and some soup can really just go a long way, you know, just to help out.

LOHR: At the University of Georgia, students don't have to meet any economic guidelines to use the pantry. The only requirement is that they show a student ID and sign a waiver. It turns out the shaky economy has caused more universities to open pantries like this, many started by students for students. There are a couple at Florida schools, Iowa State, the University of Arkansas and Wisconsin opened their versions earlier this year.

Nate Smith-Tyge is director of the Michigan State University food bank that's been around since the 1990s.

NATE SMITH-TYGE: There are the sort of economic difficulties that have faced our state for a little bit longer than they've faced the nations. There is clearly need, especially food need, out there and we have the opportunity to help meet some of that need and so that people can focus on staying in school full time and taking care of their family.

LOHR: Smith-Tyge says the Michigan State pantry will likely serve more than 4,500 students this year. According to the latest U.S. Census information, poverty among children and among 18 to 24 year olds has skyrocketed over the past decade. Nearly 22 percent of all young adults have incomes below the poverty level.

Jim Weill is head of the Washington, D.C. based Food Research and Action Center.

JIM WEILL: Whether they're in the job market full time as high school graduates or recent college graduates or part time because they're students, the situation has gotten a lot worse for 18- to 24-year-olds.

LOHR: Food banks, both on and off campuses, are helping, but labor analysts suggest it's going to take more jobs and higher paying jobs to turn things around.

Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta.

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