Food for Thought - College Pantry fills need with free groceries to students, faculty
Cape Cod Community College culinary students Bryan West, left, and Justin Baker wrap grilled cheese sandwiches that were handed out as part of a free lunch program Tuesday to encourage students and staff to use an on-campus food pantry.
WEST BARNSTABLE — There really is a free lunch — at least there was Tuesday at Cape Cod Community College, which gave out 300 brown bag lunches containing grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup to any student who wanted them.
The only catch?
Students pouring into the Zammer Institute lunchroom heard a short pitch about an on-campus satellite pantry of the Family Pantry of Cape Cod, where they could get free groceries to defray living expenses while in college.
"It's a benefit of attending Cape Cod Community College," said Christine Menard, executive director of the Harwich-based Family Pantry.
"The kids are trying to pay for gas and pay for rent and pay for college and pay for books," said Kelly Brox, manager of the community college food pantry, located in the lower level of the college's gymnasium.
The Family Pantry of Cape Cod started providing nonperishable food to the campus pantry three years ago, but last year it didn't get much foot traffic while the gym was being renovated.
When the pantry reopened in the fall it had 20 clients in the first week, including at least one faculty member.
"There is a huge challenge with students being able to afford college," said Scott Maciel, a student trustee and president of the college's Honors Club, who is scheduled to graduate this spring.
The food pantry helps students "get the education they're paying for," Maciel said.
According to the journal Inside Higher Ed, a report released this month by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab and the Association of Community College Trustees found two-thirds of the more than 33,000 community college students surveyed across the U.S. struggle with food insecurity, which means lack of access to a sufficient, consistent quantity of affordable food.
"I know I struggle sometimes with things," said culinary student Erin Sanborn, who helped provide the lunches Tuesday.
"It's kind of hard to live on the Cape and raise a family," Sanborn said. She said she and her fiance plan to move to upstate New York with her 7-year-old after she gets her culinary certificate to open a cafe.
Her fiance has family in that area, and the cost of living is much less expensive, Sanborn said.
To meeting growing local need, food pantries are expanding or starting up across the Cape.
The Cape Organization for Rights of the Disabled will kick off its mobile food pantry Wednesday morning with a run to centralized locations in Provincetown, Wellfleet and Orleans.
On Thursday CORD's food pantry bus will make deliveries to Chatham, Brewster, Dennis and Yarmouth.
The Food Pantry of Cape Cod's mobile food van started running in September with trips to the Chatham Council on Aging, and has since added senior center destinations in Brewster and Provincetown, Menard said.
In May the van will start runs to Eastham to distribute food through the Council on Aging and Cape Cod Children's Place, Menard said.
And on the Upper Cape, the Falmouth Service Center expanded how often clients could use the food pantry from once every three weeks to once every two weeks, starting in August, said Executive Director Brenda Swain.
"People would ask, 'Could I come more often?'" Swain said. "Food pantries are a critical part of the mix" of life for many on Cape Cod, she said.
As the college students streamed in for their free lunches, provided in part by a grant from Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank, Terri Barron of the Family Pantry of Cape Cod asked if they were familiar with the college's food pantry.
"You can get a bag of food every week," she told two older students who stopped to talk with her.
Students should not be ashamed to use the food pantry, said Paul McCormick, coordinator of the college hospitality program. "It's like using the gym or using the library."
People who think students should just live on noodles to cut expenses should realize many community college students have families to feed, Maciel said.
With the rising cost of expenses, it's harder than ever for students to work their way through college, he said.
— Follow Cynthia McCormick on Twitter: @Cmccormickcct.