Nightly News | March 23, 2013
>>> we're back now with more from our year-long focus on poverty. an effort supported by the ford foundation . tonight, american colleges confronting the reality of hunger right on their own compasses. here's nbc's diana al very ar.
>> reporter: it looks like just another room on the third floor of portland state university 's student union . but for senior brandon keane it is a life line .
>> it's nice to be able to eat more than once a day. and this place allows us to do that.
>> reporter: each week at least 200 students slip into this room. the school's food pantry , to select as many as five items of donated food.
>> reporter: today, lee zuke, a senior, gulf war vet can and financial aid student, picks a couple of cans of soup, some rice and tuna. what difference has having a pantry like this made for you?
>> oh, tremendous. instead of going, all right, how am i going to make what little i have left stretch for the next two weeks?
>> reporter: the average cost of tuition at state colleges rose last year by more than 8%. the volunteers who run this pantry know there are more students who can use this help.
>> i don't want people to feel the way that i did.
>> reporter: volunteer amber has been in their shoes.
>> that's one of the reasons why we have chosen not to i.d. anybody who needs to use the pantry. because, we think it's hard enough for them to decide to come in and ask for help.
>> reporter: what's happening here in portland is taking root on college compasses all across the country. there are now more than 50 university food pantries dedicated to keeping students from having to make some agonizing choices.
>> i got to a point where i wasn't getting enough hours at work to afford food or anything like that. so i finally decided to come to the food pantry for assistance.
>> reporter: at the university of arkansas , ashley horton is earning her degree in child development .
>> i didn't want anybody to see me coming down, but once i got in i just filled out all the paperwork and felt good once i finally realized i have some food to go home with.
>> reporter: these food pantries fill a gap in the american safety net . while many of the students here might qualify for food stamps to get them a student must either work 20 hours a week or hold a work-study position on campus. of which few are available. and there's another problem, the campus food pantries depend on donations. and sometimes, like the day we were at portland state , the cupboard was almost bare.
>> we constantly run out of food, and it's disheartening to me as a person that runs it to have students come in here and go, gosh, it's so empty.
>> reporter: perhaps tomorrow there will be more food in the pantry. tonight, leif knows he has at least one meal he can count on. diana alvear, nbc news, portland.