On-Campus Pantries Help Hungry College Students
As COVID-19 opened the eyes of many to the prevalence of food insecurity among our neighbors, it also brought increased understanding of the growing need for on-campus pantries at colleges across Maryland to help meet the growing need for food assistance.
At Howard Community College (HCC) in Columbia, the Fueling Dragons Food Pantry has expanded to keep pace with the growing recognition of students’ need for food. It began in a trailer, moved to a closet, and now offers a bright and inviting atmosphere in the heavily trafficked Academic Commons.
“Food is something people are willing to give up for their bills. They’ve got to pay electric bills, their phone, childcare. But food? They’ll skip meals or stretch them out. We saw that all the time.”
The Fueling Dragons pantry is set up like a grocery store, using the client choice model, and healthy recipes are updated weekly and available on convenient, laminated cards.
The pantry, which receives 1,500 pounds of food from the Maryland Food Bank every month, recently implemented MFB’s SWAP (Supporting Wellness at Pantries) program that color codes foods to help students plan healthful meals.
“Today, I had a young mother here,” Holtzman said. “She had just signed up for the spring term. And she literally cried when she saw the pantry. ‘I can’t believe you have healthy options,’ she told me. She had been crying most of the day on the campus tour, but these were tears of joy because she could cook healthy meals for her family.”
At the front of the pantry is a “grab and go” section, with granola bars, fruit cups, oatmeal, and packets of tuna and bread for making sandwiches.
“People would come in and just take one thing because they were hungry right now,” Holtzman explained. “We needed something like this.”
Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) in Arnold, Md., recognized a similar need among its hungry students and now receives about 550 pounds of food per month from MFB.
“We purchased a shoe organizer, but instead of shoes, we fill it with granola bars for students who are like, ‘I’m hungry right now and need to eat something immediately,’” said Caitlin Silver-Negrón, the college’s basic needs coordinator.
AACC’s pantry, which is located in a converted office, is also focused on client choice.
“Maintaining the dignity of our clients is one of the biggest things — we try to make sure they’re getting the foods they enjoy.”
COVID threw a wrench into college operations when both campuses were forced to shut down, leaving social media and email as the primary means of maintaining contact with students in need. HCC pivoted to provide meal kits and gift cards, while AACC began shipping boxes of food directly to students’ homes.
Silver-Negrón has heard firsthand how accessing healthy food has improved the lives of students. “Folks come in and say they’re grateful because their grades improved. That their stomachs are not growling in class. We want people to succeed in the classroom, and we’re serving the whole person.”
“I truly couldn’t do my job without the support of the Maryland Food Bank,” she added. “And it’s not only in the food that stocks our shelves, but also when I have questions about best practices, or if I need to troubleshoot something — just knowing that we have this incredible resource means the world.”
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