STEPHEN HEMELT — Lamar State College Orange food pantry could set new standard for campus service

Published 12:24 am Sunday, October 9, 2022

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If you don’t naturally associate food pantries and college campuses, you’re not alone.

They are not common campus fixtures locally or nationally.

Yet, something very interesting is brewing on the campus of Lamar State College Orange, and it could benefit an underserved segment of community while becoming a model for others to emulate.

LSCO opened Gator Food Pantry last month in conjunction with the Salvation Army of Orange and Southeast Texas Food Bank.

The campus pantry is open specifically to Gator students and campus professionals in need or facing food insecurity. All that is required is a campus ID.

Operating hours are for three hours every Tuesday in the Student Center. It has already made an impact in a few short weeks.

Amy Moore, LSCO director of student life, told me the project has been a long time coming as several departments worked up different plans to open a pantry.

“The opportunity to partner with the Salvation Army and the organization’s expertise has been incredible,” she said. “We’re grateful for all they’re doing to provide this much needed resource to our Gator family.”

Capt. Jan Zuniga of the Salvation Army of Orange County, said in the world of food right now, all food pantries are overwhelmed from the general public.

The need is great across the board.

Zuniga calls this new effort one of a kind that kick-started with a lot of trial and error.

“We have the basic operations of how our pantries run, but it is a new way of doing it,” she said. “It is a new population. If you think about it, most kids on college campuses don’t even know what a food pantry is.”

In the few weeks it has been open, one of the key efforts is educating the campus community about the opportunity.

Zuniga said you have people who work who have a hard time breaking through the feeling that it is OK to ask for help. You also have a group of people who don’t understand what a food pantry does.

LSCO leaders contacted the Salvation Army in the Spring to say, “hey, this is what we need for our campus. How can we partner together with you to make it happen?”

The whole purpose behind the pantry is to meet the food insecurity issues among the college campus families.

“If we think about it, 90 percent of the food pantries in Orange County operate during the business hours of a regular day,” Zuniga said. “Lamar State College Orange is not a residential college. It is a commuter community college campus that operates with a majority of classes during the business day. If you think about it, the majority of that population is in class or working during the day when pantries are open.”

She said administrators have long been working on serving their students holistically. They already know they are providing a low cost education to help students have a better future for themselves and their families.

“But what are their students’ needs now to be able to make the most of their education,” Zuniga said. “(The school) realized how many of their students were kind of, in general, foregoing having food because they needed to pay for gas. Foregoing having food because they needed to pay the bills just like everyone else. They wanted to meet their students holistically and have been working on this for two years.”

The purpose behind the food pantry is to meet that food insecurity issue, which is a unique dynamic on a college campus.

With an ironed out approach and proper support, this will succeed and offer a model for other smaller and larger campuses to follow.

Stephen Hemelt is the publisher at Orange Newsmedia, which produces the Orange Leader and He can be reached at