Hunger in America continues making headlines as the economy lurches forward in fits and starts—seemingly impossible in the richest country on Earth, but it’s true. For numerous college students striving to become self-sufficient and successful, hunger is very real. It’s hard to focus on your studies when your stomach is empty and growling.
In an effort to ensure students at Century College don’t fall into that category, in April the White Bear Area Emergency Food Shelf (WBAEFS) certified Century College’s new food pantry as a satellite site.
Like many great things in life, it all started with a moment of clarity. About a year ago, faculty members noticed their desktop candy dishes were always empty, in spite of their best efforts to keep them filled. Linda Baughman-Terry, chairwoman of the school’s counseling department, decided to instead put granola bars in her dish with a sign that read “Please Help Yourself.” Within 90 minutes word got out and the dish was empty—again. It was an “aha” moment: Many students might be hungry, and it might be detrimental to their future achievement and success.
After in-depth conversations with students, faculty and staff, plus a field trip to Normandale Community College to observe their food pantry operation, Century leadership decided to take the leap and open a food pantry on campus.
Occupying 200 square feet in the West Campus building, students can stock up on various nonperishable items like ravioli, macaroni and cheese, fruit cups, granola bars, instant oatmeal, chips and juices. The hours started as Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and are being re-evaluated for the upcoming school year; students can visit once per month. Upon entering, they swipe their student IDs, get a bag and choose specific quantities from categories like meals, breakfast, beverages, fruit, snacks and treats. The food is placed on a scale, they answer touch-screen verification questions and do a closing card swipe. Each week, roughly 50 to 60 students use the pantry.
The WBAEFS provided helpful advice on the processes, including ordering, federal tracking and student registration software. This relationship allows the pantry to stretch the buying power of each dollar raised by using the food bank system; a dollar spent at Second Harvest or WBLAEF goes many times further than at retail food sources.
And the benefits of the pantry don’t stop at those who use it to stock their own kitchens. “The pantry is staffed by student volunteers participating in service learning programs,” says pantry manager Judy Lykins, also the director of service learning at the school. “Our students gain valuable experience they can tap upon graduation, while providing needed operations support.”
Mike Aguirre, a 45-year-old student in the photography/visual communication program, is a married father of two sons, ages 8 and 12. After dealing with health issues and severe pancreatitis, he lost his business and decided to go back to school at Century College, where his wife also works. “It’s amazing how things come full circle,” Aguirre says. “My firm always held an annual food shelf drive, and now I am using one. But it helps bridge the gaps until I graduate and start my new career.”
With the program getting rave reviews from both students and community members, future goals include expanding to a larger space and adding refrigeration for perishables such as fruits, vegetables and dairy. They may also add toiletry items, and post nutrition information. Hours may expand depending on student use.
Century College has more than 12,000 students; more than 50 percent of them are Pell-grant eligible, coming from households at or below the federal poverty level ($22,340 annual income). Forty-three percent are older than 25, and many are working single parents living life on the margins, just a car breakdown or health incident away from financial disaster. “Compassion is in our mission,” says Jill Greenhalgh, executive director of the Century College Foundation. “Our students are striving to better themselves. We don’t want hunger to be a barrier to their ultimate success.”
To donate or volunteer, contact Jill Greenhalgh at 651.779.3338 or visit century.edu/foundation.