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Food for Thought

It’s no bigger than a storage closet, but there’s a lot of compassion pouring out of the food pantry in the campus commons at Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3). A new partner agency of the Food Bank of the Southern Tier, the pantry has plans to expand this summer to offer more fresh, healthy foods to students.

staples to prepare a few nutritious meals. They are met in a stigma-free zone by work-study students Porcha Walker and Shadeh Camacho, and Rose Morusty, a human services student intern who manages the pantry.

“At a two-year college, nothing brings us together like hating the weather and being broke,” says Matt Keichle, Assistant Director for Health Education. Matt serves on the SUNY Food Insecurity Task Force to support Gov. Cuomo’s No Student Goes Hungry initiative, which aims to provide all students from kindergarten through college access to healthy, locally-sourced meals.

A recent national survey found that more than 40% of community college students said they experienced food insecurity in the last 30 days. Studies have also shown students living with food insecurity are likely to have lower grades and graduation rates, threatening the academic success that’s key to overcoming poverty. “We want students to succeed and they have a lot of barriers to success,” says Deb Mohlenhoff, Director of Student Activities at TC3. “We’ve got students at every level of the continuum. If food insecurity is one barrier we can help eliminate, we really want to do it.”

Porcha says students are sometimes shy to use the pantry the first time they stop by, but that wears away pretty quickly.
“We try to make it a little fun each week, with a riddle or a little game. And we try to decorate and put up recipes for whole meals using the ingredients we have,” Porcha says.

TC3 opened the pantry in fall 2016, shortly after seeing the success of the Food Bank’s Mobile Food Pantry on campus. The campus pantry has relied heavily on monthly shopping trips and donations of shelf-stable food from students and staff. The pantry operates on a points system; all students have 10 points each week to spend.

As a partner agency of the Food Bank, the pantry will have access to weekly deliveries of free and low-cost food including fresh produce. Matt says about 80 students per week visit the pantry now. He is excited for the opportunity to provide more items for more students in the fall. A larger space will provide room for refrigeration and a freezer case.

TC3 is ahead in ending campus hunger as our first college food pantry partner. Fewer than 600 campus food pantries exist at colleges nationwide.

“It’s really exciting that we’re at the head of the class for a school our size,” Matt says.

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