Succeeding in college takes perseverance and determination, however it can be difficult to do well academically when you’re hungry. Ocean County College is noticing more students than ever are having a hard time affording to buy themselves dinner or lunch.

Don Doran, Vice president Student Affairs at Ocean County College, is working with other people and organizations within the college to start a program where people can make donations to a fund which would provide a full meal from the cafeteria for students who can’t afford it. The program would try to maintain the dignity of students and works off a “pay it forward” model.

“If a student can’t afford to get breakfast or lunch or dinner they can come by no questions asked and we’ll give them a voucher to get a balanced meal.”

Doran says the idea for the program spawned from seeing many students in the college cafeteria often being short a quarter, a dollar, or more when they try to purchase a meal. He introduced the plan at a Board of Trustees meeting on Monday, noting that he often would chip in for the students but notes there are many more that could use the help.

Doran says he along with many other members of the university have noticed students struggling not only getting something to eat, but often even something as simple as putting gas in their car. He notes that it’s a problem that’s seen across the state.

“It’s not just here at Ocean [County College], I’m hearing it from my colleagues at campus’s around the state that students are coming to school hungry.” Says Doran.

“If you’re hungry, there’s nothing else you can do. That’s all you think about, that’s all you’re concerned with.” Says Doran, noting that often he sees students buying whatever the cheapest food possible is, just to have something in their stomach. “But they’re not getting a balanced meal.” Adding, “if your body isn’t healthy how can you achieve.”

He notes that he gives student all the credit in the world for doing what they can to get their education, many of whom are working and going to school or making other sacrifices. However he says it sad that “right in our backyard there are those folks that don’t have the ability to buy themselves lunch.”

Inspiration for the project, which will be hosting a bake sale soon to raise funds, came not only from other students but also from the Soul Food kitchen in Red Bank.

“It’s a wonderful concept” notes Doran of the eatery run by musician Jon Bon Jovi which lets people pay for the meals of others and allows those who cannot afford to pay an opportunity to work at the restaurant for their meal. “We’re trying to see if we can do something similar for our students to help them.”

Doran told the board when introducing the idea that student’s who use the coupons for a free meal would be able to “pay it forward” by bussing some trays or giving back to fund when they are able.

It’s all part of an economy says Doran which has affected students in every aspect. He notes that in a summer advising session he had a student ask “how many credits could I buy for six hundred dollars?”

“I remember as a kid going into a penny candy store and asking how much penny candy could I buy for a nickel? What students are doing is they want to get their education but they only have the money for so many credits.”

The program providing a meal is just another way the college can help middle and working class students who are struggling to pay for their education says Duran.

“But they want it” he adds “and that’s what we’re trying to do, to help them get it.”