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MWCC Awarded ARPA Grant to Address Food Security for College Students

Student Adriana Buzzell and Brewer Center Director Shelley Errington Nicholson
Student Adriana Buzzell and Brewer Center Director Shelley Errington Nicholson

Mount Wachusett Community College was awarded the Massachusetts Community College Campus Hunger-Free Program grant funded through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for $178,535 to support the MWCC initiative “Addressing Food Security and Expanding Basic Needs Services.”

The Addressing Food Security and Expanding Basic Needs Services project is designed to address the basic needs of students through unifying and scaling services to meet demands, particularly food security. The project will involve four components: the creation of a full-time Basic Needs Specialist role; leveraging community partnerships to support food security; the purchase of refrigerated lockers for the Leominster campus pantry and associated software to expand hours of food pantry pick-up and improve student usage tracking; and the promotion of resources to high need populations.

“Studies show that food insecurity affects academic achievement,” notes Shelley Errington Nicholson, Director of the MWCC Brewer Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement (Brewer Center). “Resources like our campus pantry play a role in student success; students who utilize our campus food pantry stay in college at a higher rate than the general population of students.”

Managed by the Brewer Center, the Food For Thought Pantry at MWCC was launched in Gardner in 2017 following a basic needs survey of MWCC students. The study showed that 37% of respondents were food insecure, with 46% of racially marginalized students and 48% of Pell Grant recipient students being deemed food insecure. MWCC aims to increase the number of students served by the campus food pantries by 500% by June 2024.

“As our mission states, we believe access to education transforms lives,” notes MWCC President James Vander Hooven. “Limited access to basic needs such as food, housing, and childcare interrupts students’ abilities to succeed academically. This grant will help us to grow and enhance the work we do to address food security needs of our students as they pursue their education.”

Student Adriana Buzzell working at the Food Pantry
Student Adriana Buzzell working at the Food Pantry

The Basic Needs Specialist role will be a full-time position tasked with the oversight of both the Leominster and Gardner food pantries, the coordination of volunteers, assistance with SNAP benefits, referrals to other resources, and the development of internal and external partnerships, including the Worcester County Food Bank, Growing Places, Inc., and the MWCC Greenhouse, to ensure the needs of MWCC students are met.

The refrigerated locker system and software, to be installed at the newly renovated Leominster campus, will enable students to place food orders digitally, and enable for pick-up of the orders from the lockers anytime the campus is open, even outside of food pantry hours. Additionally, the refrigeration allows for the food pantry to offer vital perishable goods such as eggs, milk and produce, which have not previously been available.

About the Brewer Center

The Senator Stephen M. Brewer Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement promotes positive social change and healthier, more vibrant communities through innovative programming and partnerships that benefit our community and Mount Wachusett Community College. The Brewer Center oversees the Food for Thought Campus Pantries, the Students Serving Our Students (SOS) peer-to-peer support program, internships, externships, volunteerism, service learning, and civic engagement, in addition to engaging the Mount community in dialogues around challenging topics.