CHAMPAIGN — One food pantry has opened on the University of Illinois campus and another is on the way at Parkland College to help needy students coping with hunger.
The new pantry opened by the St. John's Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois — called Newman Shares! — is open two evenings a month on the second and fourth Wednesdays.
Parkland's pantry is under construction and expected to be open by Thanksgiving.
Parkland students can come to the Newman Shares! pantry for food while they're waiting for the Parkland pantry to open, says Sister Maryann Schaefer, on the pastoral staff at the Newman Center.
Schaefer said Newman Shares! was started in response to a grave need on campus among students who have become stretched too far financially to cover the cost of both a college education and their living expenses.
"And tell me ramen noodles is a healthy thing 24/7," she said.
A lot of the need is among upperclassmen and graduate students who move out of dorms, aren't being supported by parents and struggle to support themselves in apartments, Schaefer said. Some of the students are parents and supporting families themselves.
"The first thing that goes out the window is food," she said.
The Newman Center pantry has purchased a freezer and refrigerator, and is working to set up a network of food drives, Schaefer said.
Much of its support right now is coming from the County Market grocery at 331 E. Stoughton St., C, and Presence Covenant Medical Center, she said.
The Eastern Illinois Foodbank is helping supply the Newman Shares! pantry and will also help supply the pantry that will be opening at Parkland.
"I think these kids are trying to support themselves going back to school and further their lives," food bank spokeswoman Julie Melton said. "They may have a part-time job, but that isn't helping ends meet."
Parkland's pantry would have opened months ago had space been available sooner to build it, Parkland spokesman Patty Lehn said.
It is under construction now in the "S" building with work being done by students in a highway construction program, according to Parkland Dean of Students Marietta Turner.
The Parkland pantry will be a satellite of the Wesley Foundation-based Wesley Evening Food Pantry, which will be staffing it with its own volunteers and seeking Parkland staff and students to help, said Donna Camp, Wesley Evening Food Pantry director.
Turner said she knows there are students at Parkland going hungry, though Parkland officials don't know the full extent of the hunger issue among their students.
One indication may have been the number of students who showed up for signups for Illinois Link program cards to access SNAP (formerly called food stamps) benefits last spring on campus.
There was "quite a large turn-out," Turner said.
"You want a student to be able to be successful and engage in their studies, and you have to first be able to meet their basic needs, and you don't want them hungry," she said.
Parkland's food pantry, which will likely be open once a month, is deliberately being placed on the edge of campus rather than the center so students can visit it without feeling embarrassed, Turner said.
"We thought that was important, to allow people to have the dignity, to have the quieter surroundings," she said.
Newman Shares! food pantry
604 E. Armory Ave., C.
Hours: 6-8 p.m. second and fourth Wednesday of the month.
Mandarin Chinese interpreter available.
Parkland College pantry
Opening: Projected by Thanksgiving.