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Colleges fight homelessness, food insecurity on campus

Faculty members say the problem is much bigger than most realize.

KNOXVILLE — Colleges across East Tennessee are bringing awareness to hunger and homelessness on their campuses. Many students rely on food pantries at the schools and donated clothes to make ends meet and put food on the table.

"At least 60% of our students right now, if free and reduced lunch were available to college students, would qualify," said Drema Bowers, the Director of Service Learning and Civic Engagement at Pellissippi State Community College. "It’s a larger problem than people know."

Kemi Alamudun works two jobs to pay off her college. Wednesday, she helped unload a van as part of her work study program at Pellissippi State before heading to class. Once she's done with her studies, she'll take the bus to her second job. She knows she has no other choice so she can pay rent and eat.

"When I first started living on my own, I did skip meals a day or two. I didn't have enough to go the whole week so I would not eat for a day," said Alamudun. "Besides having to work to feed myself and pay my rent, I also get a lot of experience that would help me in future with my career. So it’s something I’m willing to do."

Kemi isn't homeless, but she is food insecure. A recent study from Temple University found 36% of college students across the country don't know if they'll have enough money to buy their next meal while 9% report being homeless.

Pellissippi State is working to change that. The school's food pantry feeds students and their families who can't afford groceries.

"You're provided with a three to five day supply for every member of your household of prepackaged food plus fresh produce from our organic garden," said Bowers. "Most of our college students now are juggling one and two jobs to make ends meet."

At the University of Tennessee, the university says homelessness and food insecurity is a bigger problem than most realize.

"It’s something that many of the offices on campus are trying to address," said Abigail Brumfield, a Coordinator in the Office of Dean of Students. "We have a free professional clothing closet that’s open weekly for students. We also have a free store where students can receive items that have been surplussed."

Alamudun sees college as an investment in her future, even if it means sacrificing so much to get her degree.

"I'm very, very grateful. I do hope that once I'm out of here, I can contribute by the time I'm able to," she said. "You need to take advantage of every opportunity you have and I'm sure you can always find some way to pull through."