Living off ramen noodles is often a tongue-in-cheek tale among college students who typically rely on a tight budget. But for some it’s an all too familiar reality.

At Lee University, the student-run Leonard Center helps feed students and others associated with the school through a food pantry.

“One of our concerns is college students who are facing food insecurity,” said Tyler Shores, Leonard Center special projects assistant. “Studies show that seems to be an emerging phase.”

A 2014 report from Feeding America shows 10 percent of food bank clients nationwide are enrolled in college. Two million are full-time students and one million are part-time students struggling to make ends meet while balancing education and living expenses.

“I see that so frequently across campus. We have people like me everywhere across campus who either don’t have the opportunity to make it to the store, or just don’t have the resources or the funds to do so,” said Miguel Lavacca, a Leonard Center food pantry client and volunteer.

It’s a need leaders at Lee University recognized and they decided to do something about it.

“College students generally don’t have a whole lot of money. And typically they’ll put their money into books and things like that, that they need to advance their future and go for the cheap food like ramen,” Shores said. “Well, things like that have very low nutritional value and so here they have an opportunity to get bread items and vegetables and proteins and things that are generally more expensive, but are essential to proper nutrition,” Shores said.

Clients say their lives would look a lot different without it.

“Probably in a lot of senses I would go hungry. I know that sounds a little dramatic, but it really does help that significantly,” Lavacca said.

The Leonard Center partners with the Chattanooga Area Food Bank to help keep its shelves stocked. It recently received new freezers and a cooler, thanks to a donation from Food Lion Feeds.

“There are a lot of people, even in our great nation, that are hurting and are in need and I think those of us who have, have a responsibility to be there and help those who don’t. Really just be a good neighbor,” Shores said.

For volunteers and even clients at the Leonard Center, it’s about more than just food. It’s also about faith and the future.

“We are meeting immediate needs, but our real eye is to the future,” Shores said.  “We’re helping students discover passions, strengths and gifts that they have and showing them how they can put those into service for others.”

It’s a lesson clients take to heart along with volunteers.

“It makes you aware of things you might not be aware of otherwise and it has really molded where I see myself going in the future and how I see myself helping other people as I’ve been helped myself,” Lavacca said.

Community efforts like Share Your Christmas help keep the pantry full and encourage a cycle of giving.

“A lot of people see service as being a small thing that doesn’t really help a ton, but it really does make a difference. Everything, every last little bit helps,” Lavacca said.

You can help the Chattanooga Area Food Bank continue these programs by donating to Channel 3’s 31st annual Share Your Christmas food drive on Friday, Dec. 4. We will be at First Tennessee Pavilion in ChattanoogaLifecare Center’s Campbell Campus on Keith Street in Cleveland and at First Baptist Church in Dalton from 4:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. Or you can make a monetary donation online.