Comfort Food

Campus food pantry serves low-income students trying to make ends meet.

On a February afternoon, using noodles from the student food pantry, half a jar of alfredo sauce from her last trip to the pantry, and smoked sausage chopped in tiny pieces, Danyielle Spencer devours the small portion she allows for herself in one sitting. This version of chicken alfredo is an original recipe Spencer is proud to share with anyone who asks.

“I would make my alfredo for my friends anytime because it’s one sexiest meals out there, and it’s inexpensive, especially when I get most of my ingredients from the food pantry,” Spencer said.

Danyielle Spencer is a junior at Indiana State University who is happy to talk about about her love for United Campus Ministries’ student food pantry that opened in October 2014 to any college student in Terre Haute.

Danyielle Spencer, junior at ISU, hugging one of the food items she found at the Campus Ministries Food Pantry.

Spencer is not ashamed or embarrassed to use it and encourages more students to take advantage of the resources available in financially difficult times.

“I take advantage of my resources. I don’t feel ashamed to come to the food pantry, but I think a lot of people do, just like being on welfare. You know, it’s okay to ask for help if you can’t do it on your own,” she said.

She struggled the first two years in college with poverty and food insecurity problems, and has always had these same issues growing up. The food pantry has helped her live a more well-balanced and nutritional diet by essentially supplying ingredients that help her complete a full meal.

“We want to supply students’ needs without them having to spend money. We don’t want them to feel ashamed for needing food,” food pantry coordinator JiLeigha Posley said.

This is the third campus food pantry to open in Indiana. When the pantry first opened, the staff says only two or three people would come in to use it. Eventually, news got around and now more students are aware of the services provided for them. The campus radio station promoted the pantry, and students in residence halls posted over 130 fliers informing students of the new resource. Now, Posley says at least 10–15 students come in every Wednesday to get food.

“The pantry’s role is to provide students with security, knowing they have a place to come to,” said Posley, who is also a college student. “Hey, we understand that times can get hard.”

According to Feeding America, in 2014, 48.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, or about 14 percent, including 32.8 million adults and 15.3 million children. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food insecurity means reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet. It’s hard to know how many college students are food insecure, but the Chronicle for Higher Education reported in 2015 that anywhere from 20–59 percent of college students were at risk of hunger nationwide, depending on the campus and student demographics.

Spencer struggled with food insecurity before the pantry opened at the end of 2014. Since it’s been open, she is able to complete meals with food provided by the pantry.

“I can find pieces of a meal that I can make and then go to the grocery store for meat. The pantry helps me complete a meal,” Spencer said. “It consists of most of my meals and helps me financially.”

The reality is, a lot of people living with food insecurity struggle to work enough to make enough money for bills, let alone breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Spencer works no more than 8 hours a week on campus and gets paid biweekly. She has to divide up her paycheck extremely carefully between bills, personal necessities, and food in order to have enough money to last her two weeks.

In 2013, 45.3 million people, or 14.5 percent of the nation’s population, lived below the official poverty level, according to U.S. Census Bureau. Further, 10.5 million individuals were considered the “working poor.” This is considered individuals who fell below the official poverty level even though they spent at least 27 weeks in the labor force physically working or looking for work. Unfortunately, Spencer falls into another category even though she’s working hard to succeed in life.

Spencer has considered a second job, but her human development major requires Spencer to do observations with kids and adolescents, lots of group work, and substantial reading. Spencer’s mother doesn’t support her getting another job because it conflicts with Spencer’s studies too much, but occasionally she helps out to avoid Spencer working two jobs.

Spencer has found an abundance of ways to pinch a penny anyway, anyhow, and anywhere she can. She doesn’t have her phone turned on and uses Facebook messaging as her primary contact since it’s convenient and free.

Instead of paying for a car, car insurance, and gas, Spencer has chosen to take the city bus wherever she needs to go because it’s free to students with a student ID. When the bus isn’t a good option for her, she will resort to asking her boyfriend or friend for a ride.

Since Spencer lives and works on campus, she doesn’t need many rides around town. The apartments she lives in are pricy, however. But with the help of financial aid grants, the 21st century scholarship, and other ISU scholarships, Spencer only has to pay a reduced portion out of pocket back to ISU after each semester. Even though she receives help for room and board and tuition, this doesn’t take into account her expenses for food, and she is obligated to figure that part out on her own.

Spencer has food credits for on-campus options; however, her meal plan is the lowest one available and limits her usage of them. She has to budget extra carefully to make sure she will have enough to last her the entire semester in case she doesn’t have enough cash to spend on food. She limits herself to swiping her ID for food credits to once per day, emphasizing that the food pantry has been more than gracias to Spencer and provides her access to food security.

“The food pantry is like Jesus to me; it saves my belly and it saves my wallet,” Spencer said.

Spencer has found ways to stretch out meals to last her multiple days by portioning everything for just one serving. Even if she is still hungry, Spencer will wait until it’s the appropriate time to eat her next meal. Beyond this tactic, she uses smoked sausage and turkey bacon in substitution of ground beef and chicken. Spencer says this meat is cheaper and lasts a lot longer because she takes a little portion of the meat and chops it up into tiny pieces.

“You have to concentrate on proportions, you’re always restricting yourself to not eat more,” Spencer said.

Spencer’s multiple health conditions have affected her eating patterns and limited her money that could be spent appropriately on food. She has to depict what she can or cannot eat based on how her body will react given her burdening health conditions and lack of health insurance.

Hypothyroidism makes Spencer constantly tired and exhausted no matter how many hours of sleep she gets, causing her to need extra nutrients and energy every day. Acid reflux requires her to pay special attention to everything she puts into her body since her stomach is sensitive. In addition, Spencer’s exercised induced asthma and heart murmur demand extra attention in her diet including more sources of energy and vitamins. Since she has no health insurance to help with doctor’s appointments or medication, food is essential in supplying a proper diet for her to stay healthy.

But meat isn’t the only thing Spencer substitutes for a cheaper alternative. She buys multivitamins and supplements at GNC and thyroid medications online, instead of paying for prescription medications from a doctor. These are the kinds of choices that face low-income students.

Before the pantry, Spencer would miss meals every day, which made her sick and drained her energy. Since the pantry opened, she can have little meals throughout the day to maintain her metabolism and keep up her energy, despite her health issues.

“This year is the best I’ve ever felt out of any year I’ve been here,” Spencer said.

Not only does the campus food pantry provide food for ISU students, they also accept any other college students in the Terre Haute Community. This includes Rose Hulman Institute of Technology, Saint Mary of the Woods College, Ivy Tech Community College, and Harrison College as long as you have a student ID.

Students can take as much food as they need. Ramen noodles are the favorite food item but that’s not all that is taken.

“You never know what a students need, they may have a friend who is scared to come in, or they may have families to take care of. So, it’s limitless,” Posley said.

A dinner is provided to every student that attends a “table talk” session at Campus Ministries. After discussing religious topics, students are provided with a home-cooked meal to fill their stomach before going home.They also provide an annual student yard sale, conduct multiple fundraisers, and support community service opportunities.

Spencer said she appreciates all the food pantry does for ISU students — and the difference it has made in her own life.

“I’d rather ask for help than starve death. I’m not ashamed of it; I’m glad it’s here,” Spencer said.

For more information on other resources and services provided to low-income students, contact Carrie Stone at 812–232–0186 or visit United Campus Ministries at 321 N. 7th St. in Terre Haute.

For more stories in the “Poverty and Policy” project, go online to ISU Community Journalism or