For the past year, a simple basket filled with canned food, rice and perhaps some oil or flour in Taylor Hall at Southern Oregon University has served as an informal food bank for students in need.




When Colleen Sollars, a member of the student government, looked at that one little basket, she saw an opportunity. Over the next few weeks, several more boxes of food will appear around campus.




"Poverty is something that we all care about. We thought it would be better to support it on campus," Sollars said. "There are students who are homeless who live on other students' couches. It's hard to identify who they are because nobody wants to be like 'Yeah, I'm homeless.' They're just scraping by."




The food drive coincides with Thanksgiving and the holiday season, but Sollars wants to see it continue throughout the year, so students who have extra food can leave it in the box for their classmates instead of throwing it away. So far, boxes will be available in Central Hall and the Commuter Resource Center, as well as the library for two weeks around the holidays. Sollars is also planning to contact local businesses for donations, such as leftover bread.




Sociology Professor Echo Fields set up the original basket last winter when a student told her his refrigerator was empty, and he hadn't eaten in two days.




"I looked around my office and realized I didn't have anything to give him," she said. "I said, 'Oh, I can fix that,' and I decided we would start a very informal food bank."




Fields continued conversations with her students and learned that several of them could be considered "food insecure." One student taking food from the basket was "couch surfing" because she didn't have a place to live.




"A considerable percentage of them were on food stamps, and sometimes they would run out of food stamps by the end of the month," Fields said. "We have students that are faced with the choice literally between reading and eating. It's not unusual for text book to cost $80."




Some of her realizations go against the typical view of college students, she said.




"There is a fairly common stereotype that students are all rich and privileged, and that's not reality," she said. "Reality is that we have a lot of people who are supporting families and supporting themselves and working multiple jobs and really struggling to get through school as best they can."




Student government member Philip Shilts said he considered many SOU students poor.




"It's a poor area &

Southern Oregon &

and it's also an expensive city," he said. Even if people live outside of Ashland to save on rent, they have to pay more for gas to get to school, which doesn't always leave a lot for food, he said.




Students said they liked the grassroots nature of the program.




"I feel like it's the most direct way to help out because you know where it's going," said Harrison Baker, a fifth-year senior.




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