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Ep 4: The pandemic made everything harder

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040821_CMP_SAC Food Drive 3.jpg
Camille Phillips
Texas Public Radio
San Antonio College Advocacy Center Director Jillian Denman loads groceries into a car during SAC's April 2021 pop-up market, which brings the center's food pantry outdoors to make it safer during the pandemic.

In April 2021, a tractor trailer from the San Antonio Food Bank pulled into an empty parking lot at San Antonio College.

Volunteers stacked bags of rice and crates of produce under the shade of pop-up tents. While they worked, cars lined up in an adjoining lot, waiting to be directed through the line of tents to collect groceries.

San Antonio’s community college district started holding monthly food drives like this one soon after the start of the pandemic.

“Students have lost their employment, students have had their hours lowered, or their family members have had that happen to them. And so, them being able to afford simple things like groceries …has become very difficult,” said Jillian Denman, the director of San Antonio College’s student resource center.

UTSA student Deniff Lara has enough scholarships and grants to cover tuition, books and fees. But when the pandemic hit, her family’s biggest concern became making sure there was food on the table. Her mom cleans houses for a living, and she lost a lot of work.

“At a certain point, it was a bit worrisome,” Lara said. “Thankfully, we always had at least rice or beans or something…It hasn't been easy, but I know of a lot of people that have struggled a lot more.”

From Texas Public Radio, this is the Enduring Gap, a limited series exploring some of the reasons more Latinos in San Antonio don't have college degrees.

Just 17% of Latino adults have a bachelor’s degree in San Antonio. White adults are more than twice as likely to have a degree.

In this episode, we’re talking about the effects of the pandemic. San Antonio’s pre-existing racial and economic disparities put Black and Latino students at greater risk when businesses closed and coronavirus infections soared.

TPR surveyed college students enrolled in San Antonio’s public institutions of higher education in early 2021. Almost half of the 2,600 students who responded said they worried about running out of food during the pandemic.

Compared to white students, Black and Latino students were significantly more likely to say they went hungry or worried about running out food.

We followed up with students to see how they'd been doing since we first spoke in the fall of 2021. By then, vaccines were widely available, and San Antonio’s college campuses had reopened. But the effects of the pandemic were far from over.

For more information on the college access survey the podcast series is based on, read our stories here.

The Enduring Gap podcast is made possible by an Education Writers Association fellowship. EWA fellowships support ambitious education journalism projects.

Camille Phillips can be reached at camille@tpr.org, on Instagram at camille.m.phillips and on Twitter at @cmpcamille. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.