LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - Area food pantries are helping out a demographic often forgotten about when it comes to hunger.
According to a 2016 report surveying students nationally, half reported some food insecurity in the prior month, and one in five students were very food insecure, meaning they're going hungry.
All three La Crosse universities are doing what they can to help.
"As college students, we are perpetually broke,” Viterbo University junior Esperanza Tyson said.
Tyson and her friend Nathalia Duque, both theater majors at Viterbo, know that even when they don't have time or money to stock up on groceries, there's a place they can turn.
"It's really exciting whenever they restock the food pantry and everyone's like, ‘The food fairy came!’” Esperanza said. “We try to run and grab whatever's good."
"I'm like, 'Yeah, I'm going to save money,’” Duque said. “That's really nice as college students, we don’t usually have a lot of money.”
Viterbo's pantry in the Fine Arts Center has been around for about 15 years, and the university added another in the Murphy Center a few years ago. Both are accessible anytime the buildings are open, no questions asked.
"There's several students who have reached out saying it's really impacted their lives,” said Emilo Alvarez, campus ministry director.
Demand for the food is up, but the need for the pantries has always been there, according to Alvarez.
"Sometimes what was kind of a rite of passage -- I'm going to go to college, eat ramen the entire time I'm there -- isn't necessarily the most nutritious way of living though college,” he said. “We know when students have access to good, nutritious food and three meals a day, they succeed through college a lot more."
On another La Crosse campus, Western Technical College's Cavalier Cupboard is open two days a week, offering food and other products including diapers.
"It's huge product that tends to go quickly,” said Bethany Wemette, community engagement assistant.
Since it began in 2014, Wemette said the cupboard has served 2,200 students and their families.
"We attract many types of students: students fresh out of high school, students going back to school who are already in workforce, and lots of our students are parents,” she said. “So having that demographic of students use this resource is a huge benefit for them."
Back on Viterbo's campus, Tyson and her friends are grateful to know of a welcoming place where the shelves are always full.
“It brightens our day,” she said. “It's the little things."
The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse offers a pantry for its students, as well.
The Hunger Task Force provides much of the food for all the university pantries, including new fresh produce packages now available monthly at Western.
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