Mount Wachusett Community College officials have announced that the school will open an on-campus food pantry at its Gardner campus this fall as the campus community seeks to address food insecurity among MWCC students. The announcement also kicked off a month-long food and fundraising drive.
“Two out of three community college students are food insecure and the Mount is not an exception to that,” said Southern New England Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA Jana Murphy who spearheaded the creation of the food pantry last year while she was a student at MWCC. “We have students come in who haven’t eaten in days and they are not able to concentrate in class at all. Even having one meal at school can make a difference in how they do in their classes. We also have a lot of students who have kids and don’t know how they are going to put a meal on the table. It is my hope that the Food for Thought Campus Pantry can be an assistance to any of our students in need.”
The Food for Thought Campus Pantry, which will officially open in October, was announced at the annual Day of Caring celebration at MWCC’s Gardner campus on Friday, Sept. 15. Food insecurity among community college students is becoming an increasing threat to student success, according to Murphy. Students involved with the Students Serving Our Students (SOS) program, which is operated out of the Senator Stephen M. Brewer Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement, took it upon themselves to do something about this issue by opening the food pantry. The on-campus location with student-friendly hours is a first for the college.
The announcement marked the beginning of a month-long food and fundraising drive. The drive was kicked off by a generous $1,000 donation from Senator Stephen M. Brewer. The effort will help kickstart the operation of the food pantry that will operate exclusively on donations and fundraising efforts.
The Food for Thought Campus Pantry will be operated in partnership with the Gardner Community Action Committee, which will provide food items for students living in the following towns: Gardner, Templeton, Westminster, Ashburnham, and Hubbardston. SOS mentors had already been referring students to these services, which will now be available on campus. Gardner CAC Executive Director Julie Meehan said that she is looking forward to the collaboration.
“Students are working hard to further their education and make a better life for themselves. If we can work with the school to help eliminate the barrier of hunger, or any other barrier, to a increased self-sufficiency, it just makes sense to develop and strengthen this relationship,” she said. “It’s exciting to see the founding students of the food pantry so passionate about helping other students and the strong desire to see their fellow students succeed.”
According to Murphy, research makes clear community college students experience higher food insecurity than the rest of the population. The Wisconsin Hope Lab recently released data from their 2017 study on food insecurity and homelessness in which they surveyed over 33,000 students at 70 community colleges in 24 states. The results from the study found two out of three community college students are food insecure.
Mount Wachusett Community College is no exception to the growing student food insecurity problem, according to Murphy. Peer Mentors of the SOS program report over 90 percent of students who were seeking services or referrals from SOS mentors during the 2016/17 academic year were struggling with food insecurity.
The SOS office is currently running a food voucher program as well as giving out snacks and prepackaged meals to students in need. During the 2015-16 academic year, 246 vouchers were given to 30 students. Of the students who received vouchers in the fall semester of 2015 there was a 100 percent retention rate and for the students who received vouchers in the spring 2016 semester there was a 77 percent retention rate.
“It is important for the food pantry to be located on campus as many of the community pantries are not accessible to students due to conflicting class schedules and lack of access to transportation,” said Murphy.
The Food for Thought Campus Pantry will operate out of room 192 at the Gardner campus Mondays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Students who are not able to access the food pantry during these hours can contact the SOS office, with SOS mentors will be available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to open the pantry on request. The food pantry is available to any student enrolled at Mount Wachusett Community College and no proof of income is required. For more information contact Jana Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org.