Georgia college opens free 'Care Pantry' for hungry students

College students can live on a pretty tight budget, but for some who are struggling to pay the bills, they might be deciding between paying for food and paying for utilities. 

That's why one metro Atlanta college is stepping in to help.

When students at Georgia Gwinnett College walk into the university's new Care Pantry, it can be an instant relief. 

"When a student is experiencing food insecurity it is challenging," said Katherine Kyle, vice president of Human Resources and Chief of Staff for Georgia Gwinett College. "Is their energy level the same? Are they able to stay as alert as if they were operating with full meals?"

Thanks to the pantry, students can access those meals for free - breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even a snack.

"A healthy balanced diet is critical, so we wanted to make sure that we were aligned with those types of guidelines so that we're looking out for their whole wellbeing," Kyle said.

The idea has been in the works for several years, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought the need to the forefront.

The school surveyed students last fall. Nearly 20% of students reported knowing someone who did not have enough to eat, 43% of students said they struggled to meet a need, and around a quarter of students were worried about their food running out.

So the college reached out to the Lawrenceville Co-op Ministry, which offered to provide all of the food.

"The fact that you are deciding I have to pay a bill or I have to have food for that day, no one should be in that position," Kyle said.

Students can also make requests, so they can get access to foods that meet their dietary and cultural needs. 

And that's not the only need school leaders hope to address with the pantry. It's located right by the counseling center.

 "If they are in close proximity and they see that resource, maybe it encourages them to stop in and reach out for help," Kyle said.

It's all part of the plan of helping students succeed in the classroom by addressing their wellbeing outside of it.

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