Here is how WSU Tri-Cities is fighting student hunger
Adriana Iturbe Fuentes could be any young college student.
The WSU Tri-Cities student excitedly talks about applications for robots in medicine, her volunteer work and her plans for fall.
It’s hard to tell she would have needed to drop out if not for the on-campus food bank.
The mechanical engineering major moved to Richland with her mom and her two sisters after fleeing Venezuela. Iturbe Fuentes’ mom worked long hours in the fields. Money was lean sometimes.
Lunch programs at Hanford High School filled in the holes.
Then this year, Iturbe Fuentes’ sister got sick. Seizures triggered short memory lapses. While the family focused on her sister’s health, bills started to pile up. Iturbe Fuentes’ mom couldn’t work as often. Visits to Seattle for treatment ate away what money they had.
By then, Iturbe Fuentes was at WSU. Having that campus food bank made the difference for her family.
“I am the oldest and my mom is a single parent,” she said. “If I had to start buying groceries, I don’t think I would have been able to be successful at school at the very least.”
A big hand up
Soon the Cougar Cupboard will be able to help more students stay in school rather than leaving to find work.
A $25,000 grant from Lamb Weston will let them be open longer and offer more food.
Since this past fall, 916 students have used the expanded WSU Tri-Cities food pantry. Many were feeding families.
On average, each trip fed between two and three people, said Jordyn Creighton, the director of Campus Student Support Services.
With the help of 2nd Harvest, the campus moved the pantry from a few totes into its own room last April.
“We had a 600 percent increase in the students using it,” Creighton said. “Part of it was the new location, but it’s also the quality because of the fresh food that we were able to get.”
While hunger is a issue at colleges across the country, students at WSU Tri-Cities trend older than those in Pullman. More than a third told WSU they’ve been financially unstable in the past year.
Researchers have linked food insecurity with lower graduation rates, because students spend more time working and less time studying, change their eating habits and buy less food.
They’re also more likely to spend money just trying to survive — and not on tuition, books and technology.
Able to help more students
Lamb Weston pledged $75,000 to Cougar Cupboard over three years.
Creighton said this year’s money will buy an industrial-sized freezer and double the pantry’s hours.
It’ll also go toward items outside the usual food bank fare, like toiletries and laundry detergent. Those are things students might need but don’t buy over food.
“Providing access to food is so important to food security, and we’re proud to partner with WSU Tri-Cities on this initiative,” said Deb Dihel, the vice president of innovation and co-chair of Lamb Weston’s giving committee. “By providing this service, the university is allowing students to focus on what matters — succeeding at school.”
Creighton was grateful for the company’s help, saying she was initially hoped for enough money to buy the freezer.
“We get so many thank yous from students,” she said. “It really shows that the little things that we’re doing are having a huge impact. .... We just hope that this will help students come out of school with a little less debt and to be able to focus on their success.”
Learn more about the Cougar Cupboard at tricities.wsu.edu/finaid/foodbank.