Food pantries near University of Iowa say more college students are coming to them for food

Published: Mar. 9, 2017 at 7:30 PM CST
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"Broke college student" is a common phrase on campuses around the country. But it's a harsh reality for many students who are trying to balance the costs of tuition, books, rent, and food and food is often the first thing they sacrifice.

A survey that went to colleges across the country last year found nearly half of respondents are what they call "food insecure." So for many, that means going to food pantries. The University of Iowa sent out their own survey to all undergraduate, graduate and professional students in April. Of the 1,013 that responded, 42 percent of those who responded said they experienced poor health due to lack of proper nutrition while 24 percent said they sometimes or often did not eat because they couldn't afford to buy food.

"Once people heard about us it was just like that and that honestly surprised me" said Ben Marks, co-director of the University of Iowa Food Pantry.

Marks said they've distributed more than twenty six hundred pounds of food since opening in August.

"I thought it would be a much slower, more difficult climb but it was just like that" said Marks.

A 2016 survey sent out to colleges nationwide found 48 percent of students who responded don't have enough food to eat. The reason?

"I would say it's definitely a combination of rising college prices like textbooks, tuition…" said Marks.

Tuition runs Iowa resident students $9,923 this year for tuition and textbooks alone according to the University of Iowa undergraduate admissions office. Out of state residents pay $30,705. Those numbers are in addition to whatever housing costs students have.

"The cost of living here in Johnson County is pretty high so being able to pay rent and tuition and buy groceries is really difficult" said John Boller, the executive director of the Coralville Food Pantry.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported a 17 percent increase in housing costs in Johnson County over the past year.

"It is true the rent eats first and often for many it's a matter of what's leftover can be utilized for food" said Lynette Jacoby with Johnson County Social Services.

It's when there's nothing left over when people turn to the food pantry. A student who asked we not use her name says the University of Iowa Food Pantry is a lifeline for some students.

"I think it's good just because there's a lot of food stress for college students and so having that resource, just knowing that you can get food if you need it is really good," she said, "If I needed food I would definitely use it."

Some people are reluctant to use food pantries because they're afraid it will hurt their image.

"I think a lot of times people don't want to talk about not being able to put food on the table" she said.

Sara Sedlacek with the Johnson County Crisis Center agreed.

"People don't necessarily like to reach out for help and don't want to be seen using a food pantry and I think that's especially true with younger people who you know - image is important" said Sedlacek.

Marks and Sedlacek said it doesn't have to be like that, which is why the University of Iowa Food Pantry and the Johnson County Crisis Center are trying to fight the negative stigma.

"If you're in need, even if you're just having a bad week, you had a tire blow out and you can't get groceries this week come down here. That's why we're here" said Sedlacek.

The University of Iowa Food Pantry averages just under a hundred visits per month so it's a challenge just to keep the shelves stocked because students go through it so fast. If you would like to visit or donate to the UI Food Pantry, visit their Facebook page at

If you would like to visit or donate to the Coralville Food Pantry, go to

Customers and donors for the Johnson County Crisis Center can go to