Hunger Pains: Plan for Clark Food Pantry Advances

What if you had to choose between eating and buying your textbooks? Some students do.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 12.7 percent of American households in 2015 experienced food insecurity at some point in the year, and that number skyrockets among college students. Last year, the Atlantic reported that 52 percent of college students nationwide were facing some form of food insecurity.

Clark isn’t an exception.

“We know that we have students coming to college hungry,” Vice President of Student Affairs Bill Belden said.

To help address food insecurity, Belden assembled a committee two years ago to begin creating a campus food bank, called the Penguin Pantry. The committee includes the Director of Student Care and Community Standards Dr. Natalie Shank, Multicultural Retention Manager of the Office of Diversity and Equity Felis Peralta and ASCC President Sarah Moe, among others from the Clark community.

Clark’s executive cabinet approved the committee’s proposal for the Penguin Pantry on April 4.

According to Belden, it took time for the committee to secure the funds and space needed for the pantry.

“It had to be sustainable,” Moe said. “We had to have a plan.”

Moe joined the committee after the ASCC identified addressing food insecurity as one of its top priorities for the 2016-2017 school year. “We’ve had cases of students fainting on campus because they’re so hungry,” she said.

Moe said the committee picked room 101 of the Science Building to house the pantry. The student government gave the committee around $3,000 in one-time funding to cover pantry equipment including a refrigerator, shelving units, a microwave and other initial costs.

Despite recent progress, Moe said the project is still in its early stages. “Even though we’ve been approved, we still don’t know exactly how it’s going to work.”

But they might find out soon.

Committee member and director of Workforce Education Services Armetta Burney said the committee is planning a “soft open” of the pantry over summer quarter, and expects the facility to fully operate next fall.

“The soft launch will really be to test the waters and iron out the logistical things that we haven’t thought about,” she said.

The pantry committee is trying to partner with local organizations that could provide the additional supplies they’ll need to stay stocked and ready for students.

“We toured the Clark County Food Bank and talked with them about our plans to launch the pantry,” Burney said.

Burney said she hopes to cement a partnership with them in the future, but there’s still a lot of work to do. “They want to see that we’re a self-sustaining food bank,” Burney said. “And they want to see diversification in the food sources.”

According to Burney, that sustainability will come from conducting food drives and working with local groups for donations. “It means forging partnerships with other organizations that can provide those food streams for us.”

The Penguin Pantry won’t be the first of its kind. Burney said several colleges in Washington state have adopted similar programs, including WSU Vancouver, Walla Walla Community College and Big Bend Community College.

“Food banks and pantries on campuses across the nation are really growing. Specifically at the community college level, there’s a need,” Burney said. “It’s not just Clark College; it’s a national movement.”

While Belden said the pantry will help in addressing the immediate hunger issues on campus, it wouldn’t solve the problem of student food insecurity, “there have to be other elements tied into the solution.”

English professor Kimberly Sullivan agrees. She said the college could also help by creating a web page linking struggling students to community resources and looking into short-term micro loans for students with financial troubles, especially those waiting for financial aid.

Editor’s note: The Independent should have clarified that while food banks and food pantries share the same goal, they are different. Food banks usually distribute to community organizations and non-profits like food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters and don’t directly distribute food to clients. The Penguin Pantry is a food pantry, which is type of facility that distributes food directly to to community members in need.

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