PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — We talk a lot about how families are struggling to make ends meet these days, but we don't often focus on college students.
Education leaders said the need is there, though.
Palm Beach State College just received a $950,000 federal grant to support the basic needs of students.
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It's not the freezer at your local grocery store. At the Panther's Pantry at the Palm Beach State College Lake Worth campus, shelves are piled high with canned food, snacks, produce, and everything in-between to make sure every student knows where their next meal is coming from.
"This helps me a lot because, as you know, when you go to the market, everything is expensive. So for you to have this opportunity, it really helps me make it better," student Woodgina Filsaima said.
Students like Filsaima discovered the pantry and spread the word to her classmates.
"Helping others is always great, and you feel like you are making a difference in someone's life. And that's what life is about, helping others," Filsaima said.
"We know that a student can't do well with their education if they're hungry. They are not going to meet their educational dreams and goals if they have no food in their stomach," said Robin Russo, the director of student well-being.
Russo said the need has only grown over time.
The pantry gave out more than 45,000 pounds of food across its campuses in the fall. That's more than double from the fall of 2021.
"The growth has been tremendous," Russo said.
Russo is thankful for a $950,000 federal grant for students' basic needs that will help create a pantry coordinator and bring in donations.
It's not only about food insecurity. The grant will help with mental health resources, hiring two mental health counselors to work with students right next door.
"They are working part-time, full-time, and trying to complete an education," Russo said. "So the stress levels they are experiencing are mounting by leaps and bounds. We're seeing more students than we have ever seen searching for mental health support."
Freshman Juan Pena works at the pantry on occasion and sees the benefit first-hand.
"I live with my mother and it helps us have a better life sometimes," Pena said. "Food is getting more expensive lately, so this is a good resource for students."
The team looks forward to serving more Panthers as the pantry continues to grow.
The college works with the Palm Beach County Food Bank to receive its weekly donations. The pantry also features a closet full of personal hygiene products, as well as baby food for any student in need. Many faculty members donate to the pantry, and some receive food from it as well if they need.
"We are seeing a market increase here in Palm Beach County," Russo said. "The cost of living is going up. Students and just people in general are struggling so much. We just know that we needed it, and that's why we needed to expand so much."
Students are encouraged to make appointments to visit the pantry weekly as needed. For more information or to schedule an appointment, click here.
The $950,000 Basic Needs for Postsecondary Students Program grant comes from the U.S. Department of Education. The school will also use the grant money to launch a student peer mentoring program and offer workshops for students, faculty, and staff on mental health issues and community resources.
Palm Beach State College is one of three institutions in Florida to receive the grant.