Across the country, thousands of community college students are going hungry on campus.
According to the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, two-thirds of students surveyed at 70 community colleges said they were struggling to find access to food.
In Massachusetts, the problem is just as rampant.
“It hurts. That makes me very sad,” said Dr. Liz Blumberg, Dean of Students at MassBay Community College.
This year, the college surveyed students to find out how many were dealing with hunger issues. Of the more than 300 who responded, more than half said they have trouble affording food regularly.
“They're trying to make the decision between should I put gas in my car or should I have breakfast,” Blumberg said, “It's painful to imagine a student having to think about that.”
That is why Blumberg and others helped establish a Mobile Food Market in the spring, which offers students and faculty fresh produce for free every month.
“I’ve been without food. I’ve been without money. Having this little extra is enough to push me through a week,” said student, Elaine Minnehan.
The food is donated by the Greater Boston Food Bank, which has also partnered with other colleges to create similar programs.
“If people tell you there is no hunger on campus, they're not asking the right students,” said Pam Eddinger, president of Bunker Hill Community College.
Several years ago, Eddinger said she never would have imagined that nutritional support would become so paramount at the school. However, following the Wisconsin study, they discovered similar issues on their own campus. An internal survey found that approximately 45% of students who responded were lacking access to food.
Since then, Eddinger has made addressing hunger on campus a priority.
“These are the adults that we need to turn into workers,” she explained. “So, is this about feeding students? Yes. It is also about workforce development. It's about retention and completion.”
However, colleges are seeking longer term solutions in the form of policy. Representatives from both Massbay and Bunker Hill plan to attend a national conference later this month where researchers and universities will discuss how to address hunger in their schools.
“Education really breaks the cycle of poverty,” said Eddinger. “And anything I can do, whether it be feeding my students, making sure they have a place to sleep in order for them to get that credential, I will do. That's what we do as educators.”