- Associated Press - Sunday, December 20, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A group aiming to help hungry college students is opening a food pantry on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Donations of canned food are being collected in campus offices and dorms to stock the pantry, called the Open Seat.

Advocates say hungry students often go unnoticed in their struggle to afford food, the Wisconsin State Journal (https://bit.ly/1S2vRvu ) reported.

“It’s clear that we need something like this,” said Kyla Kaplan, vice chairwoman of the Associated Students of Madison and an organizer behind the Open Seat. “Food insecurity is a bigger issue than people realize.”

A growing number of colleges and universities have opened food pantries in recent years. The Open Seat will be located inside the Student Activities Center on East Campus Mall. It is believed to be the first pantry on the grounds of UW-Madison.

It is unclear how many students at UW-Madison struggle to pay for food, or how prevalent the problem is on campuses nationwide. But a recent survey by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, which researches issues that affect college students from low-income families and is based at UW-Madison, found that 22 percent of students at 10 community and technical colleges across the country reported they skipped meals because they couldn’t afford to eat.

The lab is working to collect data on UW-Madison students, said student Brooke Evans, who works there.

Evans recalls subsisting on donated cans of fruit cocktail and cream of mushroom soup when she was homeless and hungry. She said she used to take the bus to a north side food pantry every week, spending hours to make sure she would have enough to eat.

On top of her coursework, being homeless and hungry meant that Evans was preoccupied with more basic needs her classmates did not have to think about, such as where she was going to eat that day.

Now that she has a place to live and government assistance to pay for groceries, Evans is part of the group organizing the Open Seat. She said having the pantry on campus will give students “the opportunity to live the most standard life, like the rest of their peers do.”

Associated Students of Madison will spend about $20,000 from student segregated fees this year to hire staff and pay for operational costs at the Open Seat.

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Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, https://www.madison.com/wsj

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