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ATLANTA (CBS46) -- Thousands of students are collecting diplomas this month at college graduations around the country. But along with the celebrations is the reality that nearly half of the nation's students are going hungry.

Jesse Delacruz is a psychology major at LaGuardia Community College. When he lost his job he ran out of money for food; so he started to visit the school's free pantry.

"I got some canned food and I got some milk and bread. Basically the food pantry, it kept me on my feet," Delacruz said.

Hundreds of food banks have opened at colleges and universities across the country. A recent study from the non-profit Hope Center tracked nearly 86,000 students in 24 states. Forty-five percent said they'd been food insecure in the last 30 days, which means having limited or inconsistent access to food.

Rhonda Mouton oversees LaGuardia's programs for students in need of financial assistance. She says the food pantry served about 5,000 students this year.

"If you're eating well then you can function in class well, you know, it helps you to think, it fuels energy," Mouton said.

Seventeen percent of college students were homeless in the past year, according to the Hope Center. Delacruz used his entire bank account to pay for housing and now has three part-time jobs to make ends meet.

"It's taking a toll on my grades, but I know that this is my second to last semester, so I know after this it's going to get better with the job situation," Delacruz said.

He's grateful for the school's help and is looking forward to a career in corporate psychology.

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