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      UTPA becomes standout in UT-system with new food pantry program

      The University of Texas Pan American in Edinburg wants to end hunger on campus.

      It's believed 1-in-6 college students go without food on a daily basis, according to Mari Fuentes-Martin, dean of students at UTPA.

      "We try to cover protein, vegetables, fruits, some starches and then simple things like macaroni that they can do in their microwave," Fuentes-Martin said.

      She gives Action 4 News a sneak peek at the first ever student food pantry located at University Center.

      Starting Monday, UTPA students who are pre-registered can come to the pantry once a week to pick up food items to sustain themselves or supplement what they already have at home.

      Fuentes-Martin believes as many as 100 students or more may take advantage of the free program in the first week alone.

      She explains why the need is so great on campus.

      "Because in K-12 they've gotten free breakfast and free lunch and they come to college and there is no such thing," Fuentes-Martin said.

      UTPA will become only the 2nd in the UT system to offer free food with a food pantry program.

      Fuentes-Martin said she consulted with UT-Dallas and other major campus nationwide with a similar program to make sure UTPA properly serves the needs of their students.

      Georgina Villegas is a graduate student and part-time university employee who's been fielding questions from students about the new food pantry program.

      They've been asking what kind of food will they be able to get, how much of it and how often," she told Action 4 TMs Ryan Wolf.

      The pantry is stocked with about 3,000lbs of food thanks to a partnership with the Food Bank RGV, which offers the food at a reduced cost.

      They have everything from canned chicken and veggies to snacks, macaroni and cheese--even the college life staples like Vienna sausage and Ramon noodles.

      Georgina hopes students in need will take advantage of the program, which is primarily supported by donations and student fees.

      They're spending their money on books, on gas, and I think this would be good for the students that don't have enough money to buy food," she said.

      UTPA officials hope by taking a bite out of hunger, it will ultimately help students with learning.

      Students can get more information on the food pantry program by visiting the university TMs website.

      While there are registration forms to enroll, the food will be distributed based on an honor system and not proof of need.

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