Virginia community colleges tackle student hunger, homelessness

Anthem donates $100,000 to rural food pantry programs

By Jessica Jewell - Weekend Anchor / Reporter

ROANOKE, Va. - As research shows many students are choosing tuition and books over meals, Virginia community colleges are making student hunger and homelessness a priority.

The Government Accountability Office says 9-50% of college students are food insecure, but community colleges are the hardest hit.

"A student should never have to dictate, can I have housing and food on my plate or an education? That's never okay," former community college student Lilly Balderson said. 

"We had to make some tough life choices. Do we buy gas to get to school, or do we buy a really nutritious meal to provide for our children?" former community college student LaQuisa McGlone said. 

Between a third to a half of college students are dealing with food insecurity, with higher rates at community colleges. About 10 to 15 percent of students are homeless.

"The crisis of basic needs and security is very widespread," said Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor of higher education policy and sociology at Temple University.

Goldrick-Rab has made it her mission to research and raise awareness about the issues of college student hunger and homelessness.

"We’ve got to do something about this. We can't ignore this," Goldrick-Rab said.

More than 800 Virginia community college faculty members came together Wednesday to learn about the problem and what they can do to fix it.

To help, Anthem is donating $100,000 to help 14 rural community colleges expand their food pantries, including five in southwest Virginia. Eleven of the rural community colleges in Virginia already have food emergency programs serving more than 32,000 people. The grant will give that support to almost 9,000 more families.

"This is a problem that's affecting way too many people for charity to solve by itself," Goldrick-Rab said.

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