Family Pantry Supports Hungry College Students, Too

By: Debra Lawless

Topics: Hunger

Family Pantry volunteers Anne Schulte (left) and Sherry Greene-Starr.  DEBRA LAWLESS PHOTO

WEST BARNSTABLE A student client walks into the Family Pantry of Cape Cod Community College (CCCC) shortly after it opens on Monday morning at 9:30.

Inside, volunteers Sherry Greene-Starr and Anne Schulte are busy restocking the shelves with neat stacks of cans, cartons, jars and boxes. After checking in the student, Greene-Starr opens a paper grocery bag on a stool and leads the woman down the first aisle, which contains breakfast items. Greene-Starr pauses to slit open a box containing cartons of non-perishable one percent milk, and places a milk carton in the bag. They move down the next aisle.

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“I just opened some pineapple,” Greene-Starr says.

“Oh, you have pineapple? Definitely,” the student says, and a can of pineapple goes into the bag along with a can of mango.

This is a “choice pantry,” which means that clients can choose what they want to eat rather than having it assigned. Also, while many items vary—today there are six bags of kale chips, for example—many items such as peanut butter, cereal, tuna and pasta remain consistent. This helps clients plan their trips to the grocery store.

“Take those because you’ve got kiddos,” Greene-Starr says, and more items go into the bag. In the end the student leaves with a well-packed bag of non-perishable foods.

It may shock you to learn that the College and University Food Bank Alliance estimates that up to 50 percent of college students are living with “food insecurity.”

They’re hungry and they can’t afford food.

Locally, “our numbers for September through November 2018 are up compared to the same time last year,” says Kelly Brox, manager of the Family Pantry of CCCC. “New clients are up 18 percent and total visits are up 23 percent.”

The college, which was well aware of hunger on the campus, opened the pantry a few years ago. The pantry is in a room measuring about 10-by-20, and has cement walls and fluorescent lights. Maybe it once served as a janitor’s closet. Now it contains sturdy metal shelves stocked with food. A couple of years ago the Family Pantry of Cape Cod took over the CCCC pantry, and funded the position for Brox, who was already working at CCCC. Food for the CCCC pantry is delivered to the Family Pantry in Harwich, and the college picks up the orders which are now in cartons on the floor. Monday is restocking day.

Some of the clients here are “couch surfers—that’s what the kids refer to them as,” Brox says. “Couch surfers” are essentially homeless students who crash on the couches of friends and family. One client is working two jobs as a chef. Ironically, he lives in a hotel room without any cooking facilities, and for that he pays close to $900 a month. Those without cooking facilities live on crackers and cereal. One client takes only snacks such as granola bars from the pantry. “I think it might be his only food,” Brox says. In addition to students, many adjunct faculty are contracted for less than 18 hours a week and aren’t paid during holidays and summer breaks. For them, the pantry is essential. “We have a diverse client base.”

To register for the pantry, you must be affiliated with CCCC as a current student, staff or faculty member or family at the Children’s College at CCCC. There is no financial requirement. Each client is entitled to one bag of groceries per week—approximately a $45 value, or $180 a month.

Greene-Starr and Schulte add to the bag a weekly recipe that includes three ingredients available that week in the pantry. For example, a couple of weeks ago the recipe was for a hearty Pumpkin Chili.

Hunger on the campus surprises neither Schulte nor Greene-Starr. Greene-Starr was an elementary school librarian in West Barnstable where children were given backpacks of food to take home for the weekends. Schulte volunteered in her neighborhood school in Centerville where just about all of the students received free or reduced-cost lunches.

Because the CCCC community changes each semester, one of Brox’s ongoing challenges is informing students about the pantry.

“We are constantly handing postcards out around campus, hanging flyers, posting on Facebook and getting the word out any way we can,” she says. She encourages students to use the food pantry. For some, accepting the food has a stigma, and Brox wants to remove that.

“Many are hesitant, but who doesn’t really need food?” she asks.

The Family Pantry of CCCC is at PE G13 in the Life Fitness Center and is open Mondays from 9:30 a.m. to noon, Tuesdays from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Wednesdays from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. During the school’s winter break, which runs through Jan. 28, 2019, clients may go to the Family Pantry of Cape Cod in Harwich.

The Chronicle’s 15th Annual Helping Neighbors Fund drive aims to raise $60,000 for the Family Pantry of Cape Cod by Christmas. Click here to donate now, or make your check payable to: The Family Pantry, 133 Queen Anne Road, Harwich, Mass. 02645, writing “Helping Neighbors” in the memo line. Donations to the non-profit Family Pantry are tax deductible. The Chronicle will publish a list of donors each week.