TODAY | March 09, 2014
>>> on college campus , many students working to earn good grades do not have enough food to eat. and so, many campuses are trying to tackle the problem by opening food pantries. we get a report now from diana alvear.
>> reporter: it looks like just another room on the third floor of portland state university 's student union . but for senior brandon king, it is a lifeline.
>> 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.
>> today, leif, a senior gulf war veteran and financial aid student, picks a couple cans of soup, rierks and tuna. what difference has having a pantry like this made for you?
>> tremendous. i don't go to bed going, all right, how will i 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.
>> we 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: and what's happening here in portland is taking root on college campuses 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 the point where i was getting enough hours at work to afford food or anything like that. so i finally decide 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 and once i got in, i filled out the paperwork and it felt good once i finally realized i had food to go home with.
>> reporter: the food pantries gill 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, he at least knows he has one meal he can count on. for "today," diana alvear, nbc news, portland,