WENTWORTH – Results from a recent student survey at Rockingham Community College turned a spotlight on hunger, an issue that has been discussed in the background for a few years, prompting the formation of a food pantry for students.
The survey, issued at the end of the spring semester, asked students about their experiences with the transition of classes from on campus to online, how well their instructors performed and more, as is standard.
But as RCC Associate Vice President for Technology & Institutional Effectiveness Gretchen Parrish reviewed the survey results, the answers to one question sounded an alarm.
She contacted Director of Student Life Maggie Murray with her findings: 34 percent of survey respondents said they are food insecure – they do not know where their next meal will come from, in other words.
“At nearly every student government meeting we’ve been to, just about the whole state is talking about community colleges and food insecurity,” said Murray.
In fact, Temple University spent four years surveying two- and four-year college students, and in 2018 found that roughly 48% of students in two-year colleges experienced food insecurity.
Other details from those community college students taking the nationwide #RealCollege Survey include:
• 51 percent were worried about whether their food would run out before they got money to buy more;
• 49 percent said they could not afford to eat balanced meals;
• 40 percent said they cut their meal size or skipped meals because they did not have money for food; and
• 32 percent said they were hungry but did not eat because there was not enough money for food.
The conversation at RCC gained momentum over the summer.
“A lot of our faculty members shared with me that they bring food to their offices and give food out to their students,” Murray said.
She stepped up her year-long conversation with Sampson Community College for ideas from their successful food pantry. She formed a committee to work on the initiative. And she presented the project to the President’s Cabinet, which approved it unanimously.
“This is long overdue, and now with COVID-19, it’s more important than ever to have an option like this. Students will be coming back (for on-campus classes) at some point, and we need to be able to take care of some of their needs,” said RCC President Dr. Mark Kinlaw. “It’s hard to believe that our students are that food insecure, but they are.”
Cabinet member and RCC Foundation Executive Director Kim Pryor said, “When the Foundation met in June, they voted to designate $2,000 as seed money for the project.”
And the Women’s League of Eden, a nonprofit community service club, donated an additional $1,000 to get it started.
“When we met to determine what donations we wanted to make for this year, the food pantry was recommended and the club authorized the donation, to help the students,” said Beth Pulliam, a League member and RCC’s director of Enterprise Resource Planning & Information Security.
“Kim and Beth heard of the idea of the food pantry and jumped right in to help to secure funds,” Murray said. “That was really awesome. We're super grateful for that support.”
A majority of the seed money has been used to purchase food-grade shelving, and partly for supplies and food.
The Eagle Fuel Food Pantry is set to open on Oct. 20 in the Whitcomb Student Center, downstairs in The Nest. It will be open Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10-11 a.m., and Wednesdays from 4-5 p.m.
It will monitored by SGA officers and members, Murray, and employee volunteers, and clubs.
“If a student needs food, they can come. We won’t turn anybody away, and won’t pre-approve them,” Murray said. “They will receive a free, pre-made bag with some snacky stuff and some sustenance, too.”
Students can visit the food pantry once daily. Curriculum students will present their student ID, and Adult High School Equivalency students will receive a “coupon” for the pantry. After filling out a form, a student will receive a bag containing:
- one breakfast bar
- one can of soup/beans
- one can of ravioli/vegetables/tuna/chicken
- one fruit
- one sweet item
- three bottles of water
“These items will cover a lot of their daily meals, which is great,” Murray said.
A food drive is already underway across campus through Oct. 19, to kick off the pantry’s opening. These food drives will become a regular occurrence. The campus community has always supported food drives for off-campus pantries, so there’s no doubt there will be a lot of help for the pantry that helps RCC students. Companies will also be asked for donations throughout the school year.
Items being accepted as donations are:
- Bottled water
- Canned foods (soup, beans, stew, chili, vegetables, Ravioli … foods that can be heated in campus microwaves)
- Ramen noodles/Soup in a Cup
- Fruit and pudding cups
- Granola bars
- Trail mix
- Pasta sauce
“This is certainly something heavy on my soul, that we’re in America and nobody should be without food,” Murray said.
For more information on RCC’s food pantry or to make a food or monetary donation, contact Maggie Murray at 336-342-4261 ext. 2323 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gerri Hunt is director of public information at Rockingham Community College. She can be reached at email@example.com or 336-342-4261 ext. 2170.
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