Posted on: November 20, 2021 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0
Photo by Anais Rangel

Photo by Anais Rangel

Moraine Valley’s food pantry helps sustain students who are struggling with food insecurity.

By Anais Rangel, JRN 111 Student

Around the holidays, many people’s thoughts turn to helping feed the hungry in our community. But it might come as a surprise that students in our own classes at Moraine are among those who are going without food—and it is affecting their ability to learn.

In fact, choosing between dinner and an education has become far too common among community college students. Food insecurity comes as a result of financial struggle, and when students no longer receive the nutrients required to excel in everyday activities, it can lead to both physical and mental strain.

“Students who are food insecure experience significantly higher rates of depression, loneliness and anxiety,” said Kelly Devine-Rickert, wellness coordinator at Moraine Valley. “Research has shown that poor nutrition from lack of calories, diets, and higher amounts of processed foods can cause lower grades…among other health- and school-related problems.”

Recently, food insecurity has increased due to the severe financial pressure placed on college students throughout the pandemic. Many students have lost jobs, or they must take on extra financial responsibilities due to family members being without work.

If you’re at school starving because you just didn’t have any money to get food while you’re here during the day, we want to be able to feed you.” 

Shanya Gray, Counselor

“Between 11 percent and 38 percent of students enrolled in community colleges reported ‘very low’ levels of food security, characterized by disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake,” according to an article on the website Journalist’s Resource. “Half of community college students also reported living in unstable housing situations.”

Moraine Valley is addressing this issue head-on through its on-campus food pantry. The idea originated through the TRIO program, which provides academic assistance to low-income and first-generation students.

“They were kind of having their own food pantry just by their own staff bringing food for their own students,” said MV counselor Teresa Hannon. “And then one of the instructors had a big food drive.”

Eventually, Moraine Valley counselors picked up the idea and created a permanent food drive for the college as a whole.

“The thought was that if somebody is feeling food insecure they are probably having other financial issues, and that’s where counselors can help because we do work with students who have financial insecurity,” said Hannon, who now organizes the food pantry with another counselor, Shanya Gray.

Phi Theta Kappa is collecting food through Dec. 10 to contribute to the Moraine Valley food pantry. Collection boxes can be found in buildings H, L, and S.

While tuition prices increase at colleges across the country, students are struggling to balance going to school and working minimum-wage jobs. Some students report taking “poverty naps,” sleeping rather than dealing with their hunger.

“It does affect your functioning,” says Hannon. “If you are hungry, you cannot function at your top capacity. [The food pantry] is very much a retention tool because students need food to operate.”

Moraine’s food pantry has been helping students in need for six years, providing non-perishable food items. The pantry is located in the Academic Advising Center on the second floor in Building S. It is funded in part by Student Life, which sets aside a small budget to help purchase food, but the majority of the food is collected from donations.

“We do depend on the kindness of others and donations,” said Gray.

The food pantry is part of Project Care, which also provides emergency funding through the college foundation, and gives out bus passes and Wal-Mart gift cards to students in need.

Due to COVID-19 and limited space, a procedure was set in place to access the food pantry. Counselors now hand out a checklist, and students can check off the items they need. In addition to providing food for students to take home, Gray said the pantry is working to provide sustenance for the school day.

We believe that if a student is asking for food, it’s because they really need it. If they’re asking for food, we give it. We make it that way so there isn’t any stigma.”

Teresa Hannon, Counselor

 “If you’re at school starving because you just didn’t have any money to get food while you’re here during the day, we also want to be able to feed you,” she said. “So we carry a lot of single-serve foods that you can just microwave really quickly just to put something in your stomach for that day.”

Until Dec. 10, you can donate to a Thanksgiving Food Drive set up by Phi Theta Kappa, which will collect donations for the food pantry. Additionally, people can donate to a food drive sponsored by Project Care through Jan. 31. Collection boxes are located on campus in building H (first floor), building L (near the library), and building S (first floor). Items needed include granola bars and protein bars, as well as other single-serve food items.

“We believe that if a student is asking for food, it’s because they really need it,” said Hannon. “It’s not because they forgot their lunch. The need is there, so we don’t get into their financial aid. If they’re asking for food, we give it. We make it that way so there isn’t any stigma, and there’s nothing attached to it.”