MOORHEAD - A monthly food distribution program is being planned for the Moorhead campus of Minnesota State Community and Technical College.

The program, expected to be similar to those now operating on the Detroit Lakes and Wadena campuses, aims to prevent financially strapped students from going hungry if school costs and other bills make it hard for them to buy food, said Peter Wielinski, vice president of student development and marketing.

"We're just trying to work out the logistics with our facilities to find a way to bring the numbers through on a monthly basis," Wielinski said.

Surveys done by the MSCTC have found that about 15 percent of students face housing security issues, and 27 percent experience food insecurity, he said.

"At least once a month, they didn't know where their next meal was coming from. That's a big distraction to succeeding in college," he said.

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Marisa Gonzalez was hired in August to work as a college social worker on the M State campus. She's one of two social workers on staff in the MSCTC system.

Gonzalez wants to set up the food distribution with Ruby's Pantry, a nonprofit that gathers food donated by grocery stores and restaurants and uses its warehouses and semi trucks to distribute it around the region.

"They bring in a truckload of food and it gets distributed once a month," she said.

A recipient pays $20 and they get four laundry-basket sized boxes of food, she said.

"And that's open to anyone," Gonzalez said, without income or residency requirements.

"Every week I have students come in who are not able to pay for all of their finances," she said. "If you can save a week or two of groceries, that gives you a $100 or $150 that can go towards paying the electricity bill or paying rent."

Gonzalez said the goal had been to have a distribution in May. But she still has to find a space on campus to accommodate 300 to 400 people as well as a forklift to unload the semis. If that can't happen, she would like to partner with someone in the community. If that fails, she said she might try mini food shelves around the campus in offices or public spaces.

"It may be something that gets started this summer. We've got all the players, we're just trying to figure out how to use the facility in the best way," Wielinski said.

North Dakota State University and Minnesota State University Moorhead do not have food shelves and officials for the schools said they referred students to food banks in the area if they needed food assistance. Concordia College also does not have a food shelf, a spokeswoman said.

Wielinski said the campus social workers also help students through transportation, job, child care and other issues.

"There are agencies in town that might be able to help, but a lot of times these students don't know where to turn or how to navigate them," Wielinski said. "To have someone on staff who can walk in that social services world, that's critical."

Gonzalez said she now sees 15 to 20 people a week in sit-down meetings, and many others who pop in for quick questions, or make inquiries by email.