WEST BURLINGTON — Southeastern Community College recently opened a food pantry for students at its West Burlington and Keokuk campuses in hopes of giving students in need one less thing to worry about as they pursue their education.
The pantry, called the “Blackhawk Open Cupboard,” is set up in the student activity room and has canned and other non-perishable foods, utensils, bottled water and sanitary products. All SCC students are welcome to use to pantry.
The pantry is open on Mondays from 9:30-11:30 a.m. and 1:30-3:30 p.m. or by appointment.
Those in need that cannot visit the pantry during regular hours are asked to contact Douglas Patrick, administrative assistant to vice president for student services at SCC and the pantry’s founder and lead organizer, to schedule a time beyond those hours to visit the pantry.
Patrick told The Hawk Eye that the pantry started out as a “sharing shelf” that was located at the Welcome Center, which allowed people to leave items for anyone that needed them.
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“The longer I would work here, the more I’d notice students taking from the shelf, which signaled to me that there is a need for more than just a shelf,” Patrick said.
Patrick prepare to launch the pantry during the 2012-22 school year and finally it Aug.15.
As of Sept. 9, the pantry had served 43 students, according to Patrick.
Currently, the pantry does not have any financial backing. All items are donated by students, staff and local businesses.
Panera Bread, Mepo Foods, Homestead 1839 and F&M Bank are among the local organizations that have been supporting the pantry.
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“Food pantries everywhere right now are struggling getting products or funds,” Patrick said.
Besides Patrick, a small group of volunteers are helping to run the pantry, with duties including keeping track of how patrons visit the pantry, if they are dorm students, if they live in town, and keeping track of the goods in the pantry.
One of those volunteers is Piper Cole, a sophomore at SCC. Cole said past experiences at food pantries and a desire to help those in need motivated her to help out.
“I’d been wanting to have a food pantry here (at the college),” Cole said. “I think it’s very important for almost every college to have (student food pantries), because not every student has the opportunity to get food and certain supplies that they need.”
Patrick and Cole say the majority of the students who visit the pantry live on campus, particularly international students.
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“A lot of them are dorm students that don’t want to keep eating the cafeteria food or want something new,” Cole said, adding that the pantry has also helped students that have recently moved to the area and simply do not have much money at this time.
“They don’t have vehicles to get from point A to point B sometimes,” Patrick said of the international students using the pantry’s services. “So they have to walk. They have to walk to Walmart, they have to walk to Target. There are some staff that might be able to drive them around, but that’s not all the students.”
Patrick said the students the pantry has served this semester have been grateful and like the variety of food provided.
“Sometimes they just want something (from the pantry) to get them through the day. Sometimes, I’ve noticed, they’re grabbing stuff that will last them for a few days,” Patrick said. “It just depends on the student.”
Patrick said hunger can be detrimental to a student’s success, making the services provided by the pantry all the more important.
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“When I first started researching this (project), I reached out to Western Illinois University,” Patrick said. “I reached out to the person who started their pantry, Dr. Emily Shupe, and she had initiated a survey at first, and one of the questions pertained to retention and asked ‘Have you ever received a failing grade or poor grade due to worrying about where your next meal would come from?’ And it was over 70% of the students that took the survey.
“So, it’s a big thing. If students have enough to eat, that’s one thing less they have to worry about in their life.”
Patrick said the pantry will be moving to a different space at the West Burlington campus in coming weeks. The new space has not yet been determined, but Patrick advises anyone with questions on the pantry’s location to contact him.
Anyone that would like to donate to the pantry is asked to contact Patrick at the college or order from the pantry’s Amazon wish lists, which include lists for food, feminine hygiene products, male hygiene products and utensils.
“Please support any food pantries, not just ours, any local food pantries,” Patrick said. “We are struggling right now. Many of the (other) food pantries in Iowa get their stock from the Food Bank of Iowa, and their supplies are dwindling, too. So if anyone can help support a food pantry, ours or local, that’d be great. It’s a very important food resource for people who need it and food prices are outrageous.”
“There’s a bunch of other colleges and universities that have food pantries bigger than this, and I think that this is just a great start for what is going to be coming in the future,” Cole said.
Brad Vidmar covers public safety and education for The Hawk Eye and can be reached via email at BVidmar@gannett.com.