(Angela Rojas, in middle with black baseball cap, speaks to a family at Nourishing Hope’s Sheridan Market on a recent morning. All photos by Alyssa Schukar for Nourishing Hope.) 

Angela Rojas first began playing violin when she was just 6 years old. Her passion for the instrument brought her to Chicago last year to pursue an education in violin performance at DePaul University.

And on a recent August morning, she turned to the Sheridan Market in need of food — her first time visiting a food pantry.

“It looks so nice!” said Rojas, 20, of Ibagué, Colombia, while waiting in line. “It looks like a grocery store. I feel very welcome.”

In her first year at DePaul, Rojas made the dean’s list, maintained a 3.7 grade point average, and made some new friends, all while acclimating to life in a new city and country.

“It’s been a year of a lot of challenges,” Rojas said. “But I’ve also achieved a lot of my goals.”

She’s also struggled at times to consistently afford nutritious food — an increasingly pervasive challenge for U.S. college students. Nearly 30% of four-year college students experience food insecurity, according to Temple University’s 2021 Hope Center Survey. An increasing number of colleges in the Chicago area have on-campus food pantries, including DePaul.

Angela Rojas stands for a photo outside the Sheridan Market on a recent August morning.

Rojas is able to afford her college education through a mix of scholarships, financial aid and private sponsors back home in Colombia. Beyond that, though, she’s on her own financially, and she’s limited in how much she can work — only 20 hours a week — because of the financial assistance.

In recent years, there’s been a growing body of research on the prevalence of food insecurity on college campuses. Students facing food insecurity have been associated with lower graduation rates, per one study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  Food banks in Feeding America’s network, including the Greater Chicago Food Depository — a longtime partner of Nourishing Hope — have worked to establish more food pantries on college campuses.

During her recent visit, Rojas was heartened by the upbeat and positive atmosphere at the Sheridan Market, which she found via an online search of pantries near her.

“This is so helpful to so many people, families but also college students,” Rojas said. “And it’s comforting to know that anyone who has a need for food is welcome.”

Rojas hails from Ibagué, which is touted as the musical capital of Colombia. She’s attending DePaul to advance her college education and career, she said.

Suffice to say that her first year in Chicago was a big adjustment. The winter? She didn’t care for it much. The people also seemed a bit colder too, at least compared to folks back home, she said. (Though she added people seemed very “productive” here).

The Chicago summer, though? Rojas liked it quite a bit more. In general, she’s taken both the good and the bad in stride as she continues to learn and grow in a new environment.

“The biggest thing for me is my faith in God,” Rojas said. “I give all of the credit to that and also my generous sponsors.”

Over the summer, she worked at a violin summer camp in upstate New York, she said. But when she returned to Chicago, she reviewed her budget and realized she needed additional help.

After receiving food, she returned a week later to volunteer and serve others.