Feeding hungry students

Published on Dec 1, 2015 1:37pm by Princess Gabbara,

WCC food pantry provides relief to students, funded by fines and student donation

College is hard enough without having to worry about where your next meal is coming from. That’s why the Student Resource Center (SRC) at Washtenaw Community College operates an emergency food pantry for students in need.

Described as “one of the best-kept secrets on campus,” the emergency food pantry provides some much-needed relief for students facing academic and financial barriers, including basic needs such as food and hygiene products. In the past two years alone, nearly 2,100 pounds of food and hygiene products have been donated to students.

“It’s just another creative way to be able to help students complete their program of study and overcome any temporary challenges they’re having,” said SRC Manager Liz Orbits. “Resources like the food pantry can mean all the difference in helping students reach their academic goal. Whatever we can do to help that’s reasonable and within our scope of practice, we’re more than happy to do it.”

To receive donations from the food pantry, students must first make a trip to the SRC counter, where they will be assigned a case worker, who will then provide one-on-one assistance and cater to their specific needs. They’re then added to the caseload, which currently has 500-700 students. On average, two bags of food are given to each student twice per semester.

The college has a unique way of making sure the pantry shelves remain stocked. This year from November 9-20, SRC and WCC’s Bailey Library will partner for the annual Food for Fines event, which corresponds with winter registration and coincides with Thanksgiving. How does Food for Fines work? When students have overdue books, their account is blocked. This prevents them from being able to register for the winter semester. If the student donates a food item, however, the fine is waived, enabling the tardy student to register for winter classes. All the donations are used to assemble Thanksgiving baskets for qualifying, needy students.

“It’s great to see the generosity of our students,” said Bethany Kennedy, director of Access Services at the Bailey Library. “You don’t need to have fees to donate. This is a chance for students to help their peers because who knows? It could be the person sitting next to you in class every day.”

The SRC is looking for items, such as canned fruit, vegetables, tuna fish, spaghetti, chili, baked beans, boxed corn bread mix, biscuit mix, mashed potatoes, mac ‘n cheese, crackers, granola bars, trail mix, dried pasta, bagged rice, and juice boxes.

For hygiene products, SRC accepts shampoo and conditioner, hand soap, Kleenex, dental floss, tooth paste and tooth brushes, just to name a few.  

For Esperanca De Rosario, a recent WCC graduate and mother of two small children, the food pantry has been a Godsend. “With other places, you sometimes feel too embarrassed to ask for help, but the people at the WCC food pantry make you feel welcome and they don’t judge you,” she said. “I’m definitely grateful for the food pantry because it allowed me to be able to provide essential items for my kids. It helped get us through some rough times.”

De Rosario is not alone.

Food insecurity is a serious problem for hundreds of thousands of college students across the country. According to Feeding America’s 2014 Hunger in America report, approximately 10 percent of its 46.5 million adult clients were college students and 30.5 percent reported that they had to choose between paying for food and education.   

Although some students may be reluctant to seek help due to the stigma that’s attached to these sort of issues, Orbits urges students to take advantage of the very thing that’s designed to help them succeed. “Don’t be afraid to use all your resources – that’s what successful students do,” she said. “If you need help temporarily while you’re working on your long-term goal, that’s what we’re here for. There’s no judgment from us, no expectation. If you’re in a temporary crisis, we want to be able to help you get through that crisis.”

To learn more about the Student Resource Center at WCC, visit http://src.wccnet.edu/.