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Food pantry earns college "Hunger-Free" designation

King's Pantry
Sarah Scinto
WVIA Photo
Kelly Gibbons in the kitchen of the King's College Shoval Center, where students can access the campus food pantry's offerings.

Kelly Gibbons doesn’t see surviving on cheap foods or skipping meals in college as a rite of passage.

She sees it as a sign of food insecurity.

“That’s actually one of those food myths, like, be a starving student…just eat ramen noodles,” she said. “But when you’re constantly saying, well, I had to survive on ramen noodles, that’s food insecurity.”

Gibbons, of the King's College Shoval Center, runs a food pantry for students as part of the college’s Food Dignity Project to address food insecurity among students. Any student can visit the kitchen of the Shoval Center to pick up pre-made food, stock up on items like peanut butter, or even use the kitchen to cook a meal or make a cup of coffee between classes.

The student pantry helped the college earn a Pennsylvania Hunger-Free campus plus designation from the state Department of Education, which makes King’s eligible for grant opportunities through the Division of Higher Education, Access and Equity. It was one of 23 schools throughout the state to receive the designation, and one of 15 to receive the “plus” status for additional innovative solutions.

King's hunger free
Sarah Scinto
WVIA Photo
The student food pantry within the King's College Shoval Center earned the campus a "Hunger-free" designation.

The United States Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Gibbons says, outside of campuses, students are not often associated with being food insecure.

Bill Bolan, director of the Shoval Center, says the King’s Food Dignity project had already started establishing food marketplaces in existing non-profit agencies when the staff wondered if they should have a pantry available on campus.

They polled students, asking if they or anyone they know has regularly skipped meals or gone without food, and the results were overwhelming.

“We had, overnight, about 125 responses,” Bolan said. “We had 70 students telling us directly that they themselves were experiencing food insecurity, and about 50 of them saying they had a friend or roommate who were having the same problem. So we knew this was a real issue.”

Students don’t need to apply to use the pantry or fill out any personal information when they do, but Gibbons estimates that anywhere from 25 to 45 percent of students at King’s have used it throughout their time on campus.

Sarah Scinto is the local host of All Things Considered on WVIA. She is a Connecticut native and graduate of King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, and has previously covered Northeastern Pennsylvania for The Scranton Times-Tribune, The Citizens’ Voice and Greater Pittston Progress.