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Clark’s food pantry strives to reduce student hunger


Estancia Cota poses in the Penguin Pantry
Estancia Cota said the pantry has picked up by 150 percent since last fall. “If only we could get more funding,” she said. (Cat Duque/The Indy)

Thirty-three percent of students said they were food or housing insecure in a survey conducted by Clark College in 2018. The national number is even higher at 45 percent. The Penguin Pantry, located in the science building (SCI) 101, is working to lower that statistic. 

Clark College students can stop by the Penguin Pantry for three snacks and one beverage a day. Students can also help themselves to six grocery items a week and as many toiletries and school supplies as they need. 

Estancia Cota is the program assistant at the Penguin Pantry and holds the only paid position. Cota graduated from Clark in 2008 and interned at the Office of Diversity and Equity. Recruited to run the Penguin Pantry, Cota’s been working there since the beginning with the pantry’s soft-open in summer 2017. 

“Students will come in and tell me their stories about how they struggle to pay bills and being able to eat,” Cota said. “Being able to provide what we have here gives some relief to them in terms of food insecurity.”

Cota said the pantry isn’t just for those struggling to find food. It’s open to all Clark students, and Cota encourages everyone to stop by. 

“Even if you don’t identify as food insecure, if you don’t have access to food, this place is for you,” she said. “If you don’t have five dollars for the day, come here for food and be on your way.”

Anguelica Avila-Leal and Martha Rodriguez come to the pantry for a snack about two times a week. 

“I have a three-hour class and it really helps to have something to snack on,” Avila-Leal said. “I feel tired, hungry, my stomach is growling and it’s a really quiet class.”

They both found out about the pantry by word of mouth and the posters displayed around campus. 

Cota said she believes that one of the reasons more people don’t stop by the pantry is the stigma against asking for help. 

“For me, the goal is to break down the stigma and make people feel comfortable enough to access the service,” Cota said. 

“I think [the stigma] is why I didn’t come last year until my friend said we should go,” Rodriguez said. “If other people are doing it, it makes you more likely to go as well. Like ‘oh, it’s not just me who wants food or is hungry’.” 

“In the two years since opening, the Penguin Pantry has seen a tremendous increase of visitors,” Cota said. 

On the first day of classes for the 2018-2019 school year, the Penguin Pantry saw 15 people visit. This year, the pantry served 60 students on the first day, four times the amount from last year. The increase of visitors to the pantry continued through the first week of school from 112 students last year to 302 students this year, almost three times the number. 

Cota said the high demand has encouraged a new location, the Snack Shack, to pop up on campus is part of the pantry’s goals to expand.

The Snack Shack is located at the roll-up window right outside the Gaiser Student Center. It will be open on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., which is when the Penguin Pantry is closed. 

Cota said she’d love to see even more expansion in the future and recognizes a need at Clark’s Columbia Tech Center as well. She hopes to see a Penguin Pantry open there eventually. 

With a high demand for services comes a demand for supplies. The pantry runs fully on donations, Cota said. The ASCC hosts a quarterly food drive for the pantry where clubs and programs compete to see who can raise the most items. Cota said each drive is highly successful, raising over 1,000 items each time. 

During Summer, different departments around Clark competed to raise the most toiletries and school supplies. The winner received a pizza party, and Cota said the event was highly successful.

The pantry will be celebrating its two-year anniversary on October 23rd from 2 to 4 p.m. with an open-house in SCI 101.

The Penguin Pantry is located in SCI 101 and is open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Tuesdays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. 

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