Helping hands

Student who landed at Wright State from Puerto Rico finds meaning in student food pantry

Felix Enrique Torres

Grad student Felix Enrique Torres, who landed at Wright State from Puerto Rico, finds meaning in student food pantry.

The tattoo on the inside of his left wrist bears the Roman numerals “XXVI-V-MM.” It’s the date that Felix Enrique Torres’ grandmother died.

Torres, a Wright State University graduate student, grew up in Aguadilla, a tiny town on the shores of Puerto Rico where family ties are strong and the friendly villagers will stop what they’re doing just to talk to you.

In pursuing his master’s degree in student affairs in higher education, Torres wants to help establish that same welcoming, community atmosphere for Hispanic students at a university somewhere.

“My goal in life is to get a position where I can work specifically with prospective Hispanic students and try to help them assimilate,” he said.

Torres comes from a family of achievers. His parents, now retired, worked for the Social Security Administration. Before that, his father was a paramedic in the U.S. Air Force, swooping down in helicopters as part of a rescue team. All three of his sisters are college graduates.

Torres initially visualized a baseball career. But his hopes were dashed when he broke a bone in his throwing hand while practicing martial arts.

When Torres was a junior in high school, he came to Wright State as part of a summer program and got interested in helping athletes recover from injuries. It also opened his eyes to the importance of a college education. So he later enrolled at Wright State in the athletics training program.

For a fellow from a Caribbean island, Wright State was a culture shock “for sure,” Torres said.

His first inkling of that occurred when he greeted a female student in freshman math one day with a kiss, a common practice in Puerto Rico.

“Her face turned three different colors,” Torres recalled. “I had to explain, and she laughed about it.”

Torres worked his way through college. In the operations at the Wright State Nutter Center, he would set up and break down the floor for basketball and hockey games, concerts and other events. He later worked in Dunbar Library, supervising study tables for athletes.

As part of his graduate assistanceship under the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, Torres is currently coordinator of the Wright State student Friendship Food Pantry. He can often be found there, handing out bags filled with jars of peanut butter, cans of tuna, and boxes of corn flakes and macaroni and cheese.

“There are a lot of students who work, who have families, and they are trying to take some classes at Wright State,” Torres said. “After they pay their bills and pay for school, they wonder how they are going to feed themselves. That’s why we have this here. It’s important.”

During the holidays last semester, Torres was helping get some food for a young woman.

“When they come here, they’re asking for help—and that is usually very uncomfortable. So they often don’t say that much,” he said.

Torres began cracking corny jokes, got the woman to open up a little, and learned that she would be spending the holidays alone because she did not have enough money to drive home to her family.

Torres dashed over to his office, retrieved some gift cards for gas and food, and slipped them into the woman’s bag when she wasn’t paying attention. She returned to the pantry the next day and asked him why he had given her the cards.

The grateful woman then began to cry.

“I have a lot of empathy for these students,” Torres said. “We just try to help them. That’s what we do here. I’m very attached to this place.”

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