Factors such as being a first-generation student, juggling school with work, and providing for their families mean that some students struggle with adequate nutrition.

To address this issue, food banks across the state have joined forces with the Alabama Community College System to ensure that students can devote their resources to school instead of worrying about their next meal.

Community colleges across the state are setting up food pantries, stocking shelves with non-perishable food and boxing them to give away to students throughout the year.

“When students go hungry, they lose their ability to focus on class, retain knowledge from studying, complete assignments effectively and perform well during tests,” said Chattahoochee Valley Community College Associate Dean Vickie Williams. “The impact of food insecurity on health and academic performance is long-lasting.”

According to Feeding America – a network of nationwide food banks – the most common approach to addressing college hunger is direct food distribution. The group found that colleges are geographically ideal for accessing a high number of food-insecure individuals.

Jefferson State psychology student Jaden Ledbetter has spotted a surge in foot traffic since the college opened its food pantry, which is housed inside the Student Success Center at the main campus.

“I give time because I love the thought of giving back, especially if it’s someone that’s in a bad situation,” said Ledbetter.

He volunteers his time at the pantry helping classmates in need, just like pre-nursing student Diamond Smith.

“I understand what it is like to be on the opposite end,” she said, “and would love to make someone else’s day better.”

Research shows that food assistance helps improve graduation rates, and the Heart of Alabama Food Bank CEO agrees. Michael Coleman said his team serves over half of Alabama’s counties, and much of his coverage area includes rural communities.

Coleman said rural, lower-income residents are trying to improve their lives, but when cost- related challenges arise, education is “one of the things they end up splicing out of their life.”

He doesn’t want to see any students sacrificing their dreams.

To help alleviate college hunger, consider reaching out to your nearby food bank. Partner agencies request greater needs of pop-top can meals such as Chef Boyardee, fruit cups, canned vegetables, rice, pasta, beans, and instant potatoes.