Students at the University of Texas at Austin aren’t strangers to budgeting and having to think about where their money is going.
“I noticed I sometimes take into question what I’m buying at the grocery store, what I’m doing outside class for fun on the weekends,” said junior Garrett Kelly.
Kelly said he pays about $900 a month for rent off-campus. He said some people pay even more than he does. While some parents might help their children with housing costs, others are on their own.
He said anything the school can do to help lower the cost of living for students would be beneficial.
And starting next week, that help will become available. UT Austin will officially open the doors to its first food pantry and career closet.
Current UT students will be able to get one bag of free food per month. If they need professional clothing for internship or job interviews, they can also get clothes from the career closet.
“In some ways, [it’s] supplemental income, so they’re able to pay rent, buy those textbooks,” said Student Emergency Service coordinator Will Ross. “So students have access to food and not spend at the grocery store.”
A recent study found one in four UT Austin students experienced food insecurity in the last 30 days. Between 2015-16 and 2016-17, Student Emergency Services saw a 28 percent increase in the number of students helped with food-related needs.
In support of this effort to launch the food pantry and career closet, the school also instituted a pilot program called “Food for Fines.”
It’s “something that we had never done here on this college campus,” said Blanca Gamez, assistant director of Parking and Transportation Services.
The program allowed those with qualified parking citations to pay them off through donations of 40-oz. plastic jars of peanut butter.
As of Thursday, Gamez says, “We’ve collected nearly 200 jars of peanut butter and waived about nearly $4,000 worth of citations. Any way that the department or myself can help the students and give back is great in my book.”
Ross said the school provided some initial funding to get the food pantry started, but after it opens that will change. “Annual donations through drives, food drives, or clothing drives, that sustainability, ongoing efforts, whether it’s individual or group contributing to this program, is going to be really important.”
The pantry and career closet opens early May.
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