• October 15, 2019

OC opens campus food pantry - Odessa American: Odessa College

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OC opens campus food pantry

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  • Wrangler Food Pantry

    Executive Director of Student Completion Kristi Clemmer talks to a visitor in the Wrangler Food Pantry, designed to help students not go hungry while at Odessa College.

Posted: Monday, October 7, 2019 4:27 pm

Odessa College has set up a food pantry for students grappling with food insecurity.

The Wrangler Food Pantry is open to students who attend OC, Odessa Career & Technical Early College High School or Odessa Collegiate Academy two days during the week with flexible options for students who need to access the pantry outside of posted hours. Students can utilize the client-choice pantry to pick up items twice a month.

“The hours are there to kind of guide the traffic but we’re available to help when they need us to,” Kristi Clemmer, OC executive director of student completion, said.

Currently the college’s behavior intervention team runs the operation, but staff members plan on including volunteers at a later date to assist with food drives and stocking shelves. The pantry was recently filled with items from the West Texas Food Bank and through a food drive among OC employees that pulled in more than 2,000 pounds of donations.

The pantry has food options like pasta, rice, soup and peanut butter, along with a small selection of meat, bread and produce.

Clemmer said the community college was aware that many of their students were skipping meals or eating less, but data compiled by Trellis Company in their Student Financial Wellness Survey opened OC officials’ eyes to the prevalence of the problem.

The fall 2018 SFWS looked at financial barriers for undergraduate students at 58 colleges and universities across 12 states and found 30 percent of students in the United States experienced food insecurity or had limited or uncertain access to adequate food.

Clemmer said academic performance can be sacrificed when students enter a learning environment distracted by hunger pangs or stress induced by a lack of finances.

Jared Myers, a social science sophomore and student athlete at OC, said the food pantry will offer much needed assistance to student athletes who may have limited transportation, time and funds to secure enough meals, particularly if their coach discourages players from having a job.

“With all of the struggles we have in our area with the economy and the cost of living, we knew that we needed to do something,” she said. “Their financial aid just isn’t going far enough. We have worked really hard to try to alleviate some of those things that are barriers to them learning in the classroom.”

The campus food pantry has helped more than 65 students in the last couple of weeks obtain necessities like groceries, personal hygiene products and school supplies.

A national survey created by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice this year reported rates of basic needs insecurity are often higher for students attending two-year colleges compared to those attending four-year colleges, which aligns with some data points in the SFWS.

Fifty-five percent of OC students surveyed indicated that it was important for them to support their family financially while in school, 6 percent higher than the national average reported in the SFWS by Trellis Company. Sixty-three percent of OC students said they were paying for college using money earned from their current employment compared to 56 percent of students surveyed nationally.

Housing insecurity also impacts about half of students who attend OC, with 48 percent indicating they had difficulty affording rent or utilities.

The two student housing facilities at OC, Century Commons and Wrangler Hall, accommodate 238 people, but that number shrinks drastically after about 200 beds are set aside for student athletes who are required to live on campus. As few as 32 beds can be offered for non-athlete students.

“We only have so much student housing available and if you can’t get in, the wait list around town for the lower cost apartments is not a good situation to be in,” Clemmer said. “(Students) are trying to get ahead and are not able to. They can’t concentrate on what is important to them at the time because they’re pulled in so many directions, especially if they have young families.”

The average rent for an apartment in Odessa, according to RENTCafe, is $1,386 for an 831 square foot apartment as of August 2019.

Clemmer said the food pantry is one way the college hopes to lower students’ stress, but she hopes to add more initiatives in the coming years.

“Our administration is really interested in seeing what top needs are and if there is a way we can help right away,” she said.

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