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NLC food pantry offers helping hand to students

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UNIVERSAL CITY – Reaching out to aid college students who may need a little assistance, Northeast Lakeview College is launching an Advocacy Center that includes a food pantry.

Also called the “Nighthawk’s Nest” after the school’s mascot, the center is in the beginning stages, offering meal assistance with plans to feature other supportive services.

“Currently, we are setting up a food pantry for students and administering a needs survey (to students),” said Tracy Floyd, director of student success. “The survey will help us understand what the specific needs of our students are and how we can target resources and programming to meet those.”

According to Floyd, the NLC food pantry and other assistance are part of a greater Alamo Colleges District initiative focused on reducing barriers to education.

“One of the biggest challenges is financial,” Floyd said. “Too often students have to decide between basic necessities, and paying tuition, fees and books. We want to provide an opportunity for students to achieve their educational goals. I am working with a cross-college committee whose members come from all areas of the campus, including faculty, staff and administration.”

Some students have volunteered to help.

So far, the nascent program is having a positive impact.

“Once I was put in contact with Ms. Floyd, all the issues I was experiencing began to fix immediately,” said a student in need who asked not to be identified. “She was very calm and understanding of my situation. She, and even the early version of this advocacy program, really helped me get back on my feet in school, by helping with supplies and such, making my financial strain slightly less in certain areas. This is a great program and I know it’s going to help a lot of people.”

Providing provisions and more can help a student stay on course and graduate, educators said.

“No matter the age or level of education, when students are hungry, they can’t learn,” said Susan Kazen, an NLC kinesiology and consumer-nutrition instructor. “For many students, activities like getting adequate food to eat or putting gas in the car can become barriers to completion of their college education.”

As of now, the plan is to help qualified NLC enrollees with the basics such as food, personal hygiene items and more; other features will be added as the program expands.

Future items could include emergency grants for unexpected life events, financial literacy, and access to public assistance and resources requiring more specialized services, officials said.

“We will not simply give a student a number to call; we will work with that student to ensure they get the full range of support they need, whether it is on campus or off campus, and follow up to make sure they are able to complete their educational goals,” Floyd said.

Other backing so far has included book-cost supplements until financial aid or other benefits arrived.

“We have also helped with emergency grants, so students could cover basics like putting gas in their car. We have assisted with locating housing options and some budgeting, so they could plan for their next month,” Floyd added.

The needs-assessment survey will allow community college officials to better determine what more to do.

Kazen cited an April 2018 University of Wisconsin study of 33,000 community-college students nationwide. It showed that 42 percent wrestle with finding adequate sustenance, and almost one in 10 have gone without meals at least one day during the month.

In Bexar County, according to Kazen, 14 percent of households are considered “food insecure,” which is an inability to put enough food on the table.

“When under stresses like these, students have a difficult time completing coursework or they have to drop out of college completely,” Kazen said. “Having a food pantry on campus to help address at least one of these issues, food security, has become an important step to aiding students in the completion of their coursework.”

Earlier in the semester, many NLC students, faculty and staff made pantry donations.

“Our hope is that it will help students who struggle with some of these issues have enough food to feed themselves and their families, which may help reduce some of their stress,” Kazen said. “The ultimate goal is to help students remain enrolled and complete their degrees.”

For more, email tfloyd@alamo.edu or call 210-486-5610.

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