It’s always the same face motivating Joy Hammonds, administrative assistant in the Office of Student Affairs, to help run SFA’s Food For Thought Food Pantry.
“There was a student the semester we were working on the food pantry who caught my attention,” Hammonds said. “He had lost a lot of weight, and I started noticing. I soon realized he was spending his grocery money on copays at the doctor because of a health problem.”
According to Hammonds, the monetary constraints college students often face can leave them having to choose between health care or other necessities and purchasing food. When this occurs, students can develop a temporary food insecurity.
Food insecurity is essentially not knowing where one’s next meal will come from. In the U.S., there are more than 42 million people suffering from food insecurity, according to Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization.
“Food insecurities can be cyclical and happen at different times during the semester. Students’ budgets are so tight,” Hammonds said. “If they get a flat tire, that repair expense might come out of their grocery money. If they have to pay a copay at the doctor, that could come out of their grocery money. It’s these little things that can cause temporary food insecurities for college students.”
SFA students are not immune. Since fall 2014, campus organizations and departments have been working to provide students a service to help alleviate hunger.
“Prior to the establishment of the food pantry, I really had no idea how many of our students were regularly missing meals due to a lack of food,” said Dr. Adam Peck, assistant vice president and dean of student affairs. “It has really opened my eyes. I am very proud of the work our students have done to help meet this need in the SFA community.”
Through the efforts of Hunger Jacks, a student organization working to remove hunger in Nacogdoches and SFA, and the Student Government Association, SFA opened its Food for Thought Food Pantry in January 2015 — only three months after initial meetings regarding the project began.
“We built the airplane in the sky,” Hammonds said. “We knew we had students who couldn’t wait for us, so this project was urgent.”
Hammonds helped establish the food pantry that now supplies supplemental healthy, nonperishable food to dozens of SFA students experiencing food insecurities. From 2016 to 2017, the pantry served 199 individuals who made 791 visits to the pantry, and volunteers distributed 12,688 items.
“We named the food pantry Food for Thought because it is hard to think and study when you are worried about where your next meal will come from. The food we give is the healthiest nonperishable food we can obtain,” Hammonds said.
During the semester, students who live off campus or do not have a meal plan can visit the pantry from 3 to 5 p.m. Mondays on the third floor of the Baker Pattillo Student Center. Hunger Jacks members and volunteers serve as personal shoppers for students and walk them through the pantry where they can choose 20 items.
“We realized through research that having choices rather than a prepackaged bag is critical,” Hammonds said. “It gives students personal self-worth, and it’s a lot of fun for our volunteers and shoppers. There are internal and external barriers to asking for help, so we try to break this down. When you have a choice, it makes it easier to access charitable contributions.”
Celine Gragasin, human resource management sophomore from Prosper, has been volunteering at the pantry for a year and is a Hunger Jacks member.
“Working at the pantry means not only helping students make sure they have food, but it also gives me an opportunity to network with other students and see what their lives are like,” Gragasin said. “Having them walk through the door and knowing that I can help provide something they need is a huge blessing.”
Hunger Jacks member Destinee Williams, health science sophomore from Hutto, agrees the pantry provides a valuable resource for students.
“It’s a way to give back, and that’s wholesome,” Williams said. “Whether you have the funds or not, this is a good resource because we are all struggling; we are all college students. It’s great that we can have an impact on other people.”
The pantry is supported by charitable contributions and donations. To make a donation or to contribute, contact the Office of Student Affairs at (936) 468-7249 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The pantry accepts monetary donations as well as food items.
“We have students who really depend on this. My goal is that this program will be supplemental. If students don’t have to purchase items from the pantry, they can afford to buy bread, milk and other items they need,” Hammonds said. “We don’t want to lose students because they are hungry, and we don’t want students to miss opportunities because they are hungry.”