Article via Thurston Talk
By Molly Walsh
Inside the Food Pantry at South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC), students work to help both community members and their fellow classmates who are in need of food, hygiene products and warm clothing. For SPSCC student Anna Sutherland, working at the food pantry is not only a part of her position as senator of diversity & equity at SPSCC, but has also become a passion project.
“My favorite part about working at the food pantry is just seeing people’s face light up,” explains Sutherland. “Making their day better even just a little. It’s really my honor to be able to work at the food pantry and make people’s days a little easier.”
Aimed at reducing food insecurity for both students and community members, the SPSCC Food Pantry plays a vital role in the college community. Sutherland says she sees the importance of having a food pantry on campus, because regular access to food can help remove barriers to education.
“In my personal opinion, I think that everyone deserves the basic needs of food,” says Sutherland. “Everyone deserves that right, because if they have food, they don’t need to worry about choosing between tuition, food or paying their housing. Instead, if they need food, they come to the SPSCC Food Pantry, and then they can focus on their studies, their jobs or family. Things that they should be allowed to focus on and not have to choose between.”
Located on campus, the SPSCC Food Pantry provides consistent support for both students and community members in need of food and other basic necessities. A satellite location for the Thurston County Food Bank, the food pantry coordinates with them to receive a shipment of fresh and shelf stable grocery items every week. In addition, the college runs annual donation drives to provide items like hygiene products and warm clothing.
For visitors of the SPSCC Food Pantry, there are no salary requirements and the food distributed is based on how many members are a part of each visitor’s household. During a trip to the SPSCC Food Pantry, students and community members can receive a range of groceries, including dry goods, proteins, canned foods, snacks and other staple products.
On any given week, specific items within the food pantry will change, depending on the types of items that are donated, but generally include a range of seasonal produce, canned soups, meat, tofu, eggs, tomato products, pasta, crackers, bread, pastries, milk, and butter. In recent years, those in charge of the food pantry at SPSCC have also asked pantry visitors for feedback for any additional items that are in demand. “We’ve really started to ask our clients what else is missing,” says Robert Lane, director for Student Life at SPSCC. “Some of the things that came up often were hygiene products. A lot of the time, people aren’t aware that a lot of hygiene products aren’t covered by EBT or SNAP benefits. So, toilet paper, tampons, paper towels, that adds up really quickly. And so, we want to be able to provide those products when we can.”
In addition to annual drives for hygiene products and warm clothes, the SPSCC Food Pantry also provides extra support to families during the holiday season. In past years, the food pantry has organized a shoe box drive, where sponsors would provide small holiday gifts to local children in need. In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the food pantry team worked with the SPSCC Foundation to create an updated way to help families, while also working within social distancing guidelines and the food pantry’s current drive thru pickup operations.
“We usually have like a walk-in area,” says Lane. “We use the shopping model, so it kind of feels like a convenience store. You get to choose if you want this type of cereal versus that type of cereal. But with COVID-19 precautions and ease of access, we’ve moved to a drive thru model so we’re actually operating out of the Kenneth J. Minnaert Center drive thru route. We come out, you pop your trunk, give your information, and then we load up your trunk and you’re out the door.”
Instead of providing small presents through a shoe box drive, the SPSCC Food Pantry created Operation Give Back. Through Operation Give Back, the food pantry distributed gift cards to families and visitors of the food pantry. Families could then purchase holiday presents, including books and toys and games, while also supporting local businesses.
“Overall, we had 19 families that we sponsored, and that ended up being 56 children,” says Lane. “We went around and were able to purchase those gift cards from the local stores and then redistribute them the last few weeks of December.”
Relying solely on donations and annual fundraisers, the SPSCC Food Pantry is a true community project made possible by SPSCC students, staff and faculty, the SPSCC Foundation and the Thurston County Food Bank. Through this collaboration, students have consistent access to necessities, support from classmates and additional resources that can help them to achieve their academic and career goals.
“I really think what is unique and interesting about our food pantry in particular, is that primarily its students helping students,” explains Lane. “The individuals that are working in our food pantry are often students that wanted a peer-to-peer interaction. It’s more comfortable if it’s another student, it kind of helps destigmatize. And that helps a lot of these students also utilize these services.”
To learn more about the SPSCC Food Pantry, visit the South Puget Sound Community College website.