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A growing need UTRGV’s Food Pantry branches out to Brownsville

Food donations are welcomed at the UTRGV Student Food Pantry, which is located in Cortez Hall 239 on the Brownsville campus and in University Center 114 on the Edinburg campus. MARIO GONZALEZ/THE RIDER

College students who are living on their own for the first time often struggle to maintain part-time jobs while also
attending classes. Many of them make just enough money to pay their rent and utilities bills and often don’t have enough leftover to buy groceries.

With rising tuition fees and the cost of living, the number of students living with food insecurity, which is defined
as limited access to affordable and nutritious food, has also risen among UTRGV students.

To combat this problem, colleges across the United States began opening campus food banks. These food banks, or food pantries, supply students enrolled at select universities with canned foods, fresh produce and snacks that are high
in protein such as granola bars or peanut butter crackers.

According to the College and University Food Bank Alliance, at least 240 universities have opened a student food pantry on their campus. In Fall 2014, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, then UT Pan American, opened its own student food pantry.

“Before the merger there was a lot of food insecurities,” said Jennifer Cerda, the Food Pantry coordinator. “So, they
decided to start this program where students could come in once a week and be able to get about 30 or 40 pounds of food every semester.”

It wasn’t until recently that a second branch of the non profit organization was able to expand to the Brownsville
campus. They held its grand opening on Nov. 24.

“We see a lot of need, as well, in Brownville since the H-E-B is about a couple of miles away,” Cerda said. “A lot of students live in the dorms or near campus so a lot of them don’t have vehicles to be able to go to the grocery store. So, this is a great way for them to still stay in school and be able to get their food all at the same time and in the same vicinity.”

Program Coordinator for Student Involvement, Yaribel Caraveo, felt that the Student Food Pantry opening in Brownsville would be a positive contribution to the school.

“I really think it’s a great idea. I feel a lot of students don’t see that there are a lot of their fellow classmates who are hungry,” Caraveo said. “I think it’s a way to, I guess, remove the stigma of wanting to ask for help.”

There are only two food pantry attendants, students hired under work-study, working to help run the food pantry. Bianca Partida, the Edinburg attendant, has been with the pantry since summer vacation and will be leaving when she graduates.

“[It’s] really sad because I’ve alreadyfell in love with the job,” Partida said.

“I love it, I fell in love with the students. This is a job I’m going to miss.”

The food pantry attendant for Brownsville, Ivan Prado, began working Nov. 24, the opening day.

“With the two staff that we have, it’s difficult to feed the number of students that we see each and every day,” said
the Michael Banegas, associate dean for Student Support.

Both attendants and Coordinator Cerda, work part time with the school.Yet in their line of work they often go above and beyond what they’ve been paid to do.

“I work Jennifer to death. She’s part-time, she works 19 hours. She was telling me last week she worked like 35 hours
and still goes to school,” Banegas said. “She’s that type of individual [Jennifer] that I know that after the 19 hours are completed that she still continues to work for our students and that’s compassion at heart and I appreciate that.”

Because many students weren’t aware of the food pantries’ services, not many visited them in past semesters. However, rehabilitation services senior Partida has noticed an increase in students at the pantry since she began working there.

“We had about maybe 15 maybe 20 at most using it throughout summer. This fall semester it’s grown to about 40 students a day,” the 22-year-old said.

Partida was one of many students who had no idea UTRGV was offering free food to its students back in 2014. She now advertises the resource whenever she can.

“Before I started working here I had not heard of [the food pantry],” Partida said. “I feel like also [Jennifer
Cerda] has done a great job advertising it. Before I think that’s what the food pantry was lacking: a lot of like
advertisement.”

Along with advertising the resource for students who need it, Cerda emphasizes the need for donations to keep the food
pantry running.

“Most of our food that we give out to our students is based on donations. Ten percent does come out from our budget,” the communication studies major said. “The rest of it is from donations from students, faculty, community outreach type of donations. All of it goes back to our students. … It’s to benefit them to make sure they stay in school instead of
figuring out where they’re going to get their next meal.”

Jennifer Cerda urges students to utilize their Facebook page, UTRGV Student Food Pantry, which has been set up so
that students can keep tabs on events or volunteer to donate. Individuals who would like to make a cash donation can
do so at their UTRGV page.

“We also have the yellow bins located at different departments,” the 24-year-old said. “We always have one bin here at the university center located by the vending machine so that in case anyone wants to drop by when we’re not open they can just drop them in the yellow bin.”

The food pantry is located in University Center 114 on the Edinburg campus. The pantry on the Brownsville campus is located in Cortez Hall 239. Both locations are open from 2 to 5 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and 1 to 4 p.m. Fridays. The pantry will close Dec. 15 for the holidays.

The pantry is available to all students enrolled at UTRGV. To contact the food pantry for more information or to donate,call at 665-3663 or email foodpantry@utrgv.edu.

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