Everyone knows college students live on a tight budget, but what some may not realize is that many Eastern Arizona College students were actually struggling to feed themselves until recently.

EAC opened the Monster Exchange food pantry Sept. 26 at the former Student Learning Center on West Church Street to help alleviate their hunger.

Patti Wren, the EAC student activities director, pushed for the pantry’s creation because of two statistics. First, a 2019 report revealed 35 percent of EAC’s first-full-time students are attending school on PELL grants, which are based on financial need. Secondly, Graham County has a 21 percent poverty rate and it’s highest among college-age people, 18-34, she said.

“Most of the kids that can’t afford food can’t afford gas or cars to get to the food pantries across town,” Wren said. “Many former students come to me and tell me story after story of not having any money and they would have killed to have a bag of ramen to heat up. In the last 24 to 36 hours I’ve heard at least 10 stories in everyday conversation where they would tell me they were so hungry and they didn’t know what they were going to do.”

On average, 50 students attend the pantry per weekend, Wren said.

Raban Lindsey, an 18-year-old general studies major from Saint Johns, has manned the pantry over the past couple of weekends.

“Some of the kids that come in here, they’re so grateful, even if they’re quiet and reserved,” Lindsey. “We’ve had kids come in, you can tell they really need the help by their demeanor and the way they dress.”

Lindsey, who is attending EAC on a scholarship, has a meal plan at the cafeteria and a paid apartment, said she definitely has a new perspective on life.

“Living on your own is really rough, a lot of kids don’t have support. Coming here has made me realize how grateful I am,” Lindsey said. “I think this is a really good idea.”

Wren has made arrangements with multiple local grocery stores for bread and cake donations. However, the pantry is in need of non-perishable food items.

In addition, the Monster Exchange will also accept clothing and toiletry donations for the students, especially with winter coming up.

Wren is also on the hunt for a licensed contractor who would be willing to donate their time to install an already purchased washer and dryer set, and sink. Already, local businesses lowered their prices so the college could purchase two refrigerators and a standing freezer for the pantry, a fact for which Wren said she was extremely grateful.

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