SEATTLE — Just blocks from the University of Washington, a line of people shuffle toward a food pantry, awaiting handouts such as milk and bread. For years, the small University District pantry has offered help to the working poor and single parents in this neighborhood of campus rentals. Now rising food prices are bringing another group: Struggling college students. "Right now, with things the way they are, a lot of students just can't afford to eat,” said Terry Capleton, who started a Facebook group called "I Ain't Afraid to be on Food Stamps” when he was a student at Benedict College in South Carolina. Some of the students are working their way through college with grants, loans and part-time jobs. Others are just reluctant to ask parents for more money. "More and more, it's just the typical traditional student, about 18 to 22, that's feeling this crunch,” said Larry Brickner-Wood, director of the Cornucopia Food Pantry at the University of New Hampshire.
The rising costsIn the past year, the price of groceries has jumped nearly 5 percent, the highest increase in nearly two decades. The cost of some staples has shot up by more than 30 percent. At the University District pantry in Seattle, demand has risen roughly 25 percent this year. About 150 students visit each week during the school year. Membership in Capleton's Facebook group has steadily climbed, too, and sparked other online groups with names such as "I'm in College and I got on Food Stamps.” "A lot of students can't call their mom every day to ask for that extra fifty dollars,” 24-year-old Capleton said. "They're on their own.” Qualifying for aid at community food banks is usually easy. Most charities just require users to show identification proving they live in the area. The Community College of Denver runs its own food-assistance program, which has seen demand double in the past year. "It's the highest I've ever seen,” said Jerry Mason, director of student life at Community College of Denver. "Our assumption is it's because of the high price of food.” In response to demand, the school doubled the pantry's $3,000 annual budget.
DID YOU KNOW?
Food stamps•Food stamps are distributed through a Department of Agriculture programs administered by the states. But the agency does not track whether applicants are enrolled in college, so the number of students is unknown. •Students generally are eligible for food stamps if they qualify for a state or federally funded work-study program; work at least 20 hours per week; have a child under the age of 12; or are taking employer-sponsored job training classes.