GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Askhia Khawaja knows a Ziploc bag of cheese puffs is not a meal, but it will get her through a week of trying to live on $4.23 per day.
“I have realized the struggle of being a college student and trying to eat healthy,” she said.
The Stockton University Campus Center’s food court options — from Dunkin’ Donuts to Chick-fil-A — might be a dream to most college students.
But if you don’t have a lot of money, they are mostly just temptations. Hunger on college campuses is becoming more recognized, and schools are responding.
Khawaja participated in a SNAP Challenge at the college, attempting to eat for a week what a single person might receive in food stamps, about $127 per month through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The commuting student lives with her family in Atlantic City.
Last year, a Stockton Student Senate survey found more than 700 of about 1,600 students surveyed said they had skipped meals because they did not have enough money. Stockton has set aside funds to provide temporary meal vouchers and formed a committee to review each case and provide long-term support where possible.
Craig Stambaugh, Stockton associate dean of students, said last year about 35 students received 300 meal vouchers. Some were also given financial aid support and work study jobs if eligible, and placed in a college mentorship program.
“A lot of times they are also having other issues,” Stambaugh said. “We’ve had homeless students who are staying with other students because they have no place to live.”
Atlantic City resident Joyce Williams loads her three young children in the car each week and heads to her supermarket to buy fresh fruits and…
Rutgers University this year started its own on-campus food pantry for students.
Khawaja quickly realized the food options on campus were going to be more than she could afford on her $4.23.
She follows a halal diet that somewhat limits her food choices.
She gave up her fancy coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, replacing it with a cup of coffee and a fried egg at home. She carried a refillable water bottle on campus.
She thought about getting a cup of vegetable soup one day, but that was $3.40.
“I had some soup in one of the little tasting cups, and that was my meal,” she said. She could buy a yogurt, apple or banana, but a small veggie sub cost $4.57.
One night after a late meeting, she stopped at a grocery store with a craving for cheese and ended up buying a huge bag of cheese puffs because they would last. On campus she shopped at the snack bar, where a cereal bar cost $1 and honey buns were two for $1.
“I can understand now the obesity problem and why people go for the junk food,” she said. “The healthy food was expensive.”
At home, her family supported her efforts when she skipped family meals and ate leftover plain rice and yogurt. But she admits the week was tolerable only because she knew it would end.
“I am glad it’s over,” she said, adding she was looking forward to eating biryani, a Pakistani rice dish with roasted chicken.