Metal shelf stocked with various food items against beige wall.
Georgia’s Tech’s Klemis Kitchen pantry focuses on feeding needy students while preventing food waste on campus. (Courtesy Students' Temporary Assistance and Resources)

Students filed into a free food pantry at Georgia’s Tech main Atlanta campus on the way to their classes recently, grabbing vegetables and baked goods.

Called Klemis Kitchen, the busy pantry points to lingering hunger in America, even at a major research university, amid the coronavirus pandemic, rising inflation and joblessness.

For the past two years, Georgia lawmakers have weighed bipartisan legislation aimed at wiping out hunger by aiding such pantries and helping grocery stores open in needy areas.

Senate Bill 177 would create a council that would advise the Legislature about how to tackle those challenges. It would also recommend ways to improve the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, better known as WIC, and expand the number of farmers’ markets that accept food stamps.

It passed the Senate this year before stalling in the House. The bill’s Democratic sponsor, state Sen. Harold Jones II of Augusta, could not be reached for comment about his plans for the measure. But he has emphasized eradicating “food deserts,” or areas of the state where it is difficult to find affordable and good-quality food.

“It’s not an issue of having available food, it’s the type of available food you have,” Jones said. “This problem exists across racial and economic lines. It affects the Atlanta area, Augusta, Valdosta. It affects people all over the state.”

About 13.5 million U.S. households experienced food insecurity in 2021 or had difficulty providing food for all family members because of a lack of resources, according to a report by the federal Agriculture Department. Representing 10.2% of all the nation’s households, that number was not statistically different from the previous two years.

Food insecurity has been linked to diabetes, hypertension and decreased mental health.

Meanwhile, more than 53 million people across the nation turned to food banks, food pantries and meal programs for help in 2021, a third more than before the pandemic, according to a report released last year by Feeding America, a nonprofit charity.

Swipe Out Hunger, a nonprofit that helps feed college students, supported SB 177.

“Campus pantries are a huge resource for students,” said Janelle Raymundo, a spokeswoman for Swipe Out Hunger.

Georgia’s Tech’s food pantry is named after Tommy Klemis, who owned Junior’s Grill, a campus landmark that closed in 2011. The pantry focuses on feeding needy students while preventing food waste on campus. Students, campus organizations, Midtown Atlanta grocery stores and a Lutheran food ministry help supply the pantry.

“People come into the kitchen for all different purposes,” said Carly Shuman, a graduate program advisor at Georgia Tech. “It’s very rare that I’ll see the stuff we had early in the morning the next day. By the time I get here, it’s gone because of all the late-night study folks that come through, especially if they know it’s Wednesday.”

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