TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - There was a time where Aileen Cerrillos was so tight on cash, it was difficult to afford a decent meal. Sometimes that meant eating ramen every night or designating a single bag of Takis for lunch, which she made last for days.
These are some of the tactics Cerrillos, a University of Arizona master’s student, would use to ease hunger during her battle with food insecurity. At the beginning of the school year, she utilized the free lunches and snacks. In the evenings, she would drink a glass of water and crawl into bed.
This is one picture of what food insecurity looks like. There are others, none quite looking the same.
Food insecurity exists on a spectrum, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Overall, food insecurity is a condition of limited or uncertain access to food.
“Often we think of food insecurity as: I’m constantly starving and I never have money to eat right and depend on certain services which is totally valid and happens all the time,” Cerrillos said.
Then there are a group of students — which Cerrillos said she falls into — who experience food insecurity when paychecks don’t come in or when financial aid is delayed.
“It may not look the way we think it looks,” Cerrillos said.
On average, 1 in 3 college students experience food insecurity at some point in their academic career, according to the UA Campus Pantry website.
In the university’s most recent Campus Climate survey, 20 percent of students said they often or always skipped meals or ate less because they didn’t have enough money for food.
For many, stigma against the implications of food insecurity can make it difficult to seek out resources. Cerrillos said she felt shame in asking for help during a time of life she felt expected to be completely independent.
She knew about the food pantry because she worked there and even then, Cerrillos said she felt conflicted about using it.
“Even when I would get food from the pantry, I work here; I shouldn’t have to do this, internalizing that shame from taking from a community resource,” Cerrillos said. “If you have access to it, go and get it.”
Especially after her experiences with food insecurity, the food pantry has given her a greater look at what basic needs looks like on college campuses.
“I am incredibly grateful for what the pantry does for me and I would assume that other students are grateful as well,” Cerrillos said. “I think one thing I learned is that we never expect thanks in this job.”
For more information on the UA Campus Pantry, click here.