Community food pantry now open

food pantry

“The goal is: nobody goes Hungry,” said Alex Clark, Student Programs front desk coordinator and former ASG environmental and social responsibility representative. The “fend for yourself” attitude is a cultural issue, and “we can change that,” he said. “On campus we believe this is a microcosm of the rest of the world. This is where people come to learn, discover themselves, discover their values.”

“This is just another way of showing people that not everybody has it really easy, and it’s our job as humans to help out,” Clark said. “These aren’t people on the other side of the world. These are people we see every day, who we go to class with.”

During the first week of winter quarter 2015, the food pantry was opened, and is accessible from morning until 7 p.m. on the second floor of the C Building outside of Student Programs. “There’s no judgment,” said Brandon Lueken, Student Programs program coordinator.

Lana Mack, ASG environmental and social responsibility representative, has been working with community members and Hopelink organizers to learn how to most effectively address the issues of hunger and security, striving to do so “in a way that’s not going to single people out or perpetuate any negative stigma around grabbing food when you need it.” Those who use the pantry won’t be singled out, don’t have to fill out any paperwork, and don’t need to declare what they take.

There are individual grab-and-go items, as well as food packs provided by Hopelink that offer two days’ worth of food, with options for those who do have a place to cook and those who do not. The pantry has utensils, napkins, as well as hygiene items such as toothpaste and toothbrushes that are available to all.

“Hunger has been an issue the Associated Student Government has been working on for a while,” Lueken said. “Especially because we’re a community college, we’re open access, we serve students who have some of the greatest needs.” There is a spectrum of students who need help when it comes to feeding themselves adequately. Some students can successfully pay for classes and work to earn money to support themselves, but can’t afford enough food. Others have already taken out loans to attend college, and are struggling to get by. “We’ve been exploring different options to meet these students’ needs,” he said.

When it comes to academic performance, “If a students’ hungry, they’re not really doing their best, Lueken said. “They can’t concentrate, they’re grumpy; it’s an added stress.” ASG has been trying to address this issue in a number of ways. The garden club, which grows produce in its various garden beds located on campus near the green house, offers students an opportunity to take part in the production and harvesting of food. The highest yield is often in summer, when enrollment count is the lowest, and the extra food is then donated to local food banks or collectors. Winter weather makes growing more challenging. ASG has been exploring options that can be a solution to this problem year-round.

“The basic premise is: we are a community. If we can help it, no one in our community goes homeless or hungry,” said Faisal Jaswal, assistant dean of Student Programs.

There is a food collection bin in Student Programs, as well as bins distributed around campus. The food collected will be put in the BC pantry and some will be donated to St. Andrew’s Church and back to Hopelink to help reinforce the partnership.

Student Programs has been trying to get the college to accept food stamps, Lueken explained, “but that wasn’t an option. There are a lot of barriers for that, just because there are requirements you have to meet as a food vendor to be able to accept benefits. You have to sell a certain amount of food and the right kind of food.” The food stamp program is designed to allow individuals to purchase items at a grocery store to be prepared at home, so cafeteria food doesn’t fall under that category.

Food services created an interim program, which is not running anymore, called the Hunger Relief Program, which allowed students to show their EBT cards at the cafeteria and receive food items such as soup, sandwiches and milk. The program wasn’t sustainable because money for the program was limited to the discretionary funds of Food Services and donations. Clark said, “You’re already in a position where you can’t make all the choices that you necessarily want to make based on your financial situation. What we wanted to do was help those students who are in that sort of situation and need that sort of help make it a dignified thing for them, so they can make their own decisions about what they want to eat.”

“This idea of having to qualify as ‘poor enough’ to get an EBT card is really difficult, especially as a student. One of the problems with food stamps is that you have to work at least 20 hours,” Clark explained. BC student employees can’t work more than 19 hours per week, so that posed an immediate setback. “We have a lot of students who are working on campus and contributing to the community and they have no options,” he said. The food bank is an alternative approach that is a “community investment,” as Clark described. “Help shouldn’t come with conditions, especially when we’re trying to promote social justice.”

“This is the first step, but it’s a really powerful step,” Clark concluded.