2014-01-24 / Front Page

Pantry feeds college students

By Sean P. Milligan
Contributing Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – Getting through a frigid Maine winter is enough for anyone to withstand without having to worry where your next hot meal is coming from. Students in need at Southern Maine Community College won’t have to fret about access to food, thanks to a food pantry located in the school’s Captain’s Quarters.

The program was started in 2011 when the college's former president, James Ortiz, approached Phi Beta Kappa, SMCC’s honors society, about the struggles that get between students and finishing their education.

“A lot of students were reporting dropping out of school to find work and put food on the table,” said SMCC’s Civic Engagement Coordinator Madelyn Holm. “The food pantry was opened with that in mind.”

The pantry, the product of a partnership between the school and Good Shepherd Food Bank, currently serves 60 to 70 students that range in age from 18 to 65. The pantry is seen as a test site for other higher education institutions to offer a similar program. Currently, Kaplan University is the only other post-secondary school in the state that offers hunger support for students in need.

The pantry is primarily sponsored through community fundraising and donations. SMCC kick-started the program with a $500 grant that was matched by Good Shepherd Food Bank.

Members of the SMCC staff are responsible for keeping the shelves and refrigerators stocked with food from the Good Shepherd warehouse in Biddeford. Food finds its way to the warehouse from private donation, contributions from grocers, or it is purchased directly by the food bank.

“We’re like the BJ’s or Sam’s Club for food pantries and soup kitchens,” said Samantha Culver, a Child Hunger Corps member who works at Good Shepherd Food Bank. “They come to us to get really low prices on their food.”

Good Shepherd Food Bank has established 29 food pantries in schools and provides resources for more than 600 agencies statewide.

According to Culver, there are more than 90 schools in Maine with 75 percent of students who qualify for free or reduced-rate lunches. Those schools are primarily located in rural parts of the state. Outreach from schools to establish pantries has been so overwhelming that schools with less than 50 percent of students who qualify for reduced or free lunch are being turned down.

SMCC wants to do more to help its community than providing food, however. Through the holiday season toy donations for students with children were accepted.

“Right now we’re trying to focus mostly on food, but we’ve actually been taking donations of toys,” Holm said. “Before Christmas we did some shopping for families. We’ve had a lot of donations of clothing, so eventually we’ll have a clothing closet on campus.”

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