While most college students focus on homework and making good grades, a growing number face even more challenges.

In a 2015 survey of 4,000 students from 10 community colleges across the country, 20% reported being hungry, and 13% said they were homeless.

This semester, Kilgore College opened an on-campus food pantry to help students dealing with such issues.

"Given the high number of jobs lost due to downturn in the oil economy and those related fields, we had a special sense of urgency to help our students,” said Dr. Mike Jenkins, Kilgore College vice president of student development. “We know they're struggling."

As of February 15, 12 students made a combined 26 visits to the pantry since it opened this January inside the Devall Student Center.

Trey Hattaway, the college’s director of marketing, escorted one of those students to the pantry.

"I get some tingles thinking about her,” he said. “Sitting there watching her pick out the needs she had and visiting with her and realizing there's a lot of folks out there who can benefit from this."

Administrators said a student seeking help must simply visit one of several checkpoints and fill-out a form.

"Currently we have very few restrictions on accessing the food pantry because if a student is hungry we want them to come use what we've got," said Jenkins.

The shelves are stocked with donations from the campus community – a key component of the pantry’s mission.

“If we can get students helping other students as well as the faculty and staff all pulling toward student success, I think we can see great things coming from our graduates.”

As Hattaway looked back on his visit with that student – surrounded by shelves of food – her final words that day stuck with him.

"The last thing she said as she walked out the door was ‘I’ll make sure that when I graduate that I'll give back to the food pantry since you provided that help to me,’" he recalled.

Kilgore College administrators said they hope to expand the food pantry to their Longview campus.

Someone wishing to donate non-perishable food, toiletries or other items can deliver them to Jenkins’ office in the Devall Student Center.

The college will also accept monetary donations. Checks can be mailed to:

Kilgore College
Attn: Dr. Mike Jenkins
1100 Broadway
Kilgore, TX 75662

For more information on the pantry and how to contribute, call (903) 983-8189.