WESLACO, Texas - Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley will now be providing student food pantries at South Texas College’s Mid-Valley and Pecan campuses with free food supplies for one year estimated at more than $10,000.
“We want to make sure our students are focused on their education and not where their next meal is coming from,” said Libby Ann Saenz, Food Bank RGV co-chief executive officer. “We are very big on education because we know it’s the way out of poverty so whatever we can do, we are going to make sure we can do it.”
According to a recent Hope survey, 38% of college students at two-year colleges around the country experienced food insecurity. The problem has worsened in the wake of the pandemic.
STC’s food pantry sole purpose remains to supply food to the students and families who need it most. The initiative gives students the opportunity to receive a college education and have food in their refrigerator, without sacrificing one for the other.
The college’s Pecan campus in McAllen and Mid-Valley Campus in Weslaco are both located in Hidalgo County, which holds a poverty rate of 26.9%. Meanwhile, STC’s Starr County campus in Rio Grande City resides in a county with a poverty rate of 32.5%—one of the highest in the state.
The pandemic heightened the food pantries need, as students facing unemployment, housing concerns, and less opportunities for work struggled to meet basic needs.
Today, STC food pantries can assist more than 200 students and their family members in a given month at Pecan and Mid-Valley campuses.
Natalie Salinas, a student from the Mid-Valley campus, says the food pantry has helped her tremendously as she works to receive her degree in Criminal Justice.
She said nobody should be embarrassed to seek help.
“This has given me peace of mind,” Salinas said. “I think it often has a negative connotation because people think it’s for low-income people, but hunger happens to everyone. We shouldn't be ashamed, feel bad or connect ourselves to that stigma. This allows us get ahead as a student and be able to focus on the end goal, which is to graduate and move forward in life.”
Since 2017, the pantry has helped provide eligible students with food items such as canned vegetables, canned fruit, rice, beans, flour, oil and other essential items. Eligible students can pick up food from the pantry two days a week for themselves and their families.
The pantry’s benefits don’t stop at food. Additional resources to help students thrive in their education are also available across the Pecan, Mid-Valley and Starr County campuses, such as counseling services and career and employer services.
“We have worked hard to forge and maintain a mutually beneficial relationship that has resulted in ongoing support for our college pantry as well as hundreds of hours of workforce training for food bank employees and their clients,” said Carlos Margo, Ph.D., STC dean of Industry Training and Economic Development who is also vice president of the Food Bank RGV Board of Directors.
According to a study completed by public researchers at John Hopkins University, students who experience food insecurity are 43% less likely to graduate from a two or four-year college when compared to their food-secure classmates. Students who experience food insecurity are also more likely to earn a lower grade-point average.
Students can begin the anonymous process and receive information about the food pantry at life.southtexascollege.edu/food-pantry/ Meanwhile, STC food pantries across the Mid Valley, Pecan and Starr County campuses continue to accept monetary donations through the STC Marketplace website at secure.touchnet.com/C20193_ustores/web/.