ALLENTOWN, PA - It’s the kind of text alert that can make or break a student’s focus.
"They’re going to be looking at their phones, they’re going to be looking at text messages and that things are instantaneous," says Muhlenberg senior, Gabriella Solomon, "And so students can check and see where is there leftover food on campus and discreetly take it after the event is over so to avoid the kind of shame of going to an event just for the food themselves."
Berg-Bites alerts community members when there is leftover food at a catered event. College Chaplain, Kristen Glass Perez says, it’s a simple way students can help each other here at Muhlenberg in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
"If you’re not able to make a cup of coffee in your room, you’re not really experiencing life as a regular college student," Perez tells PBS39 News Tonight Reporter, K.C. Lopez, "I also think that our data shows that, again, it is often an incremental amount of money that can be the difference for helping someone complete their undergraduate degree and that can make the difference between remaining in college or needing to leave college."
This initiative is just one of three new ways Muhlenberg students are stepping up to combat food insecurity on campus.
"Right now each student can donate one meal swipe per semester for a total food bank of 250 swipes," explains Muhlenberg Sophomore Natalie David, "When you think about college, you think about the freshman 15, you think about eating pizza with your friends and going to the dining hall. You don’t think about going hungry on your college campus which is supposed to be your home away from home."
And stocked strictly through donations, is the Muhlenberg Useful Living Essentials or MULE Community Cabinet. This pantry helps students with what’s often most overlooked; their basic needs. From canned foods to feminine hygiene products and books and pens to detergent and toothpaste the MULE’s got student’s covered.
"These initiatives, all of them, have really opened up a conversation on this campus," says Solomon, "Muhlenberg used to have this kind of--it was kind of known for being a Muhlen-bubble and that students kind of assumed that students were all the same social class, economic class and that no one was really suffering from these basic needs. And it’s really just opened up a conversation that’s really needed on this campus. These are basic needs that go for granted because you think, oh these students have it, we’re on a college campus. But because the price of college has risen so dramatically, some of these basic needs kind of fall by the wayside for some students.
With doors open three times a week; Monday and Tuesday mornings and Friday evenings, all Muhlenberg students can come by privately and confidentiality.
"Unfortunately, there is that stigma and shame around being food insecure even though there is nothing to be ashamed of; everyone goes through these struggles and everyone needs help," explains David, "This campus is happy to offer that support to help you succeed. Pastor Perez and the student workers do track the students who come in just to see how many students are coming in, how many new students are coming in and just be able to adjust the supplies we offer to help give students what they need."
Financial circumstances can change in the blink of an eye. That realization helped streamline these efforts to further help students facing difficulties often outside of their control.
"This is not something that we need to be ashamed of and just because we don’t talk about it, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist," says Perez, "So it enables them to move through their college experience in a way that offers dignity, respect, and appreciation for who they are and the gifts that they offer to our community."
But going hungry should never be the reason a student loses focus on what’s important.
Got a news tip? Email K.C. at KCLopez@WLVT.org