Dallas College Pantries Help Fuel Students to Success

The school is one of 15 to partner with the North Texas Food Bank to provide food to students facing hunger.

Stephanie Harris wants students at Dallas College to know that while there’s nothing wrong with eating ramen, it’s also not an essential part of college life.

“Students oftentimes think that it is a rite of passage to be poor and hungry in college and that eating ramen every day is the real college experience and that is simply not true,” says Stephanie, the food pantry coordinator and the associate dean over basic needs and connections for Dallas College. “Going to college should not be a traumatizing experience.”

To help ensure that students’ needs are met, Dallas College has partnered with the North Texas Food Bank to establish nine pantries across its campuses. Students can stop in for a drink and a snack or pick up enough groceries to get them through the week. The pantries are also open to the community on Fridays and mobile distributions are hosted once a month.

“Nutrition is the baseline of most things we do in life, but specifically anything to do with the brain or thinking. If you don’t have nutrition in your body, it’s hard to focus and to stay awake. It’s hard to comprehend and retain knowledge,” Stephanie says. “Sometimes just getting an energy bar or grabbing a bag of chips before you take an exam can improve the way that you learn.”

Dallas College saw 50,000 visits to its pantries last year, but many students still don’t know the pantries exist.

To help spread the word and make food more accessible, Stephanie and her team host Pop-Up Pantry events where they offer easy-to-grab snacks and drinks from a table that’s set up in a highly trafficked area on campus, typically during busy times like mid-terms or finals week.

“Students may just park in front of their class, get in, and leave without knowing that we have a pantry on campus,” she says. “The idea is to make our food pantry more accessible and to raise awareness.”

By handing out bags of chips and other snacks from a table, Stephanie says they’re also normalizing food assistance and breaking the stigma associated with visiting the pantry. Along with food, the table offers resources on SNAP, Medicaid and virtual nutrition classes.

Nationwide, at least 34 percent of college students face hunger, according to an NCES study, and that percentage is growing along with the increasing number of non-traditional students, including those who are working full time, individuals who are single parents and first-generation students.

Stephanie says she often encounters students who could benefit from food access but don’t ask for help because they believe their situation is not as bad as others’. She wants all students to know there’s nothing wrong with seeking assistance and that there’s plenty of support to go around.

Mariana, a volunteer and Dallas College pantry participant, agrees and says students shouldn’t be ashamed of needing support. She says she enjoys helping others and that she also has utilized the pantry herself.

“I know how exhausting college life can be and I know food helps you stay motivated in class,” she says. “Getting snacks and groceries helps college students stay successful in school …If you need assistance, please take it. These resources are free and they are for students.”

In addition to its pantries, Dallas College also has 17 student care coordinators who assist students with social services based on their individual situations.

Chris, a veteran and pantry participant, says he grew up being told that men don’t ask for help but that he’s learned there’s nothing wrong with needing a little support. When he got out of the military, Chris says he struggled with depression, addiction and homelessness. But now he is studying to become a substance abuse counselor. Having access to food helps him to focus in class, which will allow him to help others in the future.  

“I just want to be an advocate and help people who might be going through the same thing that I have in my past and just saying there are other ways,” he says. “There’s freedom from your addiction, there’s freedom from mental health, there’s freedom from a lot of things — you just have to find the right people to help.”

For a full list of Dallas College pantries and distribution events, please visit dallascollege.edu/resources.

Kathleen Petty is the communications manager for the North Texas Food Bank.