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University tackling student hunger, food pantry stigma in unique way

Posted at 10:38 AM, Feb 26, 2020

BOWIE, Md. -- Nestled away on a college campus sits a student lounge unlike any found at a typical college.

“You're thinking someplace you can relax, you know, some place you can kind of just let your hair down for a moment,” said Christina Becton, a nursing student at Bowie State University in Maryland.

On more than one occasion she’s found herself hungry and headed to the university’s new “nutritional lounge.” It’s a place where students can come and get food they can’t afford.

“There is certainly a financial constraint being in college,” Becton said.

Inside, there’s comfy seating, a flat screen TV and a jar for “suggestions” of food students would like to see featured on the shelves. Yet, the words “food pantry” are nowhere to be found there, for one main reason.

“There is a stigma and we want the students to know that we're here to support them. We want to make sure that you know they don't feel this any sense of shame,” said Dr. Aminta Breaux, president of Bowie State, Maryland’s first Historically Black College and University.

She said most of their 6,100 students are commuter students. Many work while going to school, but still, hunger abounds.

According to a survey by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, their recent study of 123 college campuses around the country found that 45 percent of those surveyed admitted to having gone hungry at least once in the past 30 days. It’s a situation that school administrators say is both heartbreaking and unacceptable.

“It's just not something you would expect to see because you think of college as being that place where you get all the wraparound services,” Dr. Breaux said, “but unless we get the word out as we are now, I don't think we'll be able to adequately address this issue.”

Back at the lounge, food donations arrive from alumni, along with weekly donations from a local Food Lion supermarket and the Capital Area Food Bank.

“I'm definitely on peanut butter,” Becton said, as she looked at the shelves. “I have come in here; we've gotten oatmeal.”

The donations are making a difference in her last few months of college.

“This is my senior year,” she said proudly. “I'll be graduating in May.”

It’s a helping hand before she and fellow students set out on their own.

For more information on the Bowie State Nutritional Lounge and how you can help, click here.