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MC Food Pantry Adapts to Meet Needs as Growth Continues
The pantry works to enhance how they serve the campus community in an effort to spread awareness.
Since its creation on April 1, 2022, the food pantry has experienced growth in all areas. When it was originally opened, it was thought that there would be only about 12 students coming a week who needed food. Though the numbers did start out that way, the MC food pantry now receives around 75 people a week to get food pantry items.
It is believed this growth comes from an increase in awareness of the food pantry. According to Shari Barnes, Director of Community Service, there has always been a need, but now, people know about what the food pantry offers. Recently, the prices of food have almost doubled which has caused an increase in need as well.
The food pantry was created when Barnes and Rebecca Benson, Assistant Dean for Christian Leadership, realized some of their students struggled with food insecurities. This can come from not having enough money for food or running out of meal swipes on a meal plan. When talking about the food pantry, Barnes mentioned her own struggle in college with food insecurity: “I remember when I was a student, and there were times when all I had was a can of soup in my cabinet to eat. It would have been nice to have a food pantry on campus to be able to go and get things because I just didn’t have the money to buy it, and that happens with students today.”
At first, this need was discovered by the knowledge of individual students by Benson and Barnes. However, the scope of the issue was realized through MC’s launch of their chat bot, a computer system that talks with students anonymously. Through a series of questions about food insecurities, real-time data indicated that many other students struggled with food insecurities. According to Benson, these factors launched the creation of the food pantry.
Food insecurities are important to Benson for more than just immediate needs. In the grand scope of things, food insecurities affect many other areas of students’ lives including academic and campus involvement. Benson said, “If we can meet the basic needs of people, … I think that allows students to flourish versus spending time worrying about what they are going to eat rather than studying for a test. It has absolutely direct effects on the experiences a student is going to have and even the success a student is going to have within their time here at MC… But, I think it also directly affects their future life.”
The food pantry is not limited to just MC students, but anyone associated with MC has the ability to receive food by showing their MC ID with no questions asked. According to Barnes, the pantry is utilized by people in every one of these categories, not just students. The process to receive is extremely confidential. There is no record of the names of anyone who receives food, and even the volunteers and workers, who run the pantry, have signed confidentiality statements. The only thing recorded is whether or not someone is coming for the first time and the weight of the amount of food they take, both of which are just to keep records of the food pantry.
Sam Erway, a Mississippi College junior, walked toward the B.C. Rogers Student Center in October of 2021 looking for the Mississippi College food pantry. Overwhelmed at the amount of food and the new experience, she was grateful as the person behind a desk welcomed her in, and explained the process. Sam got a plastic bag and left with margarine, mac and cheese, and a canned good. Sam explained her feelings about this experience, saying, “I was feeling very appreciated. Like ‘Oh, wow. This is so nice that I can go in and get something when I need to.”
Anyone who comes to the pantry can receive 12 items. While the food pantry contents depend on the donations received, they do have a good variety of items including things like laundry detergent, plastic utensils, canned goods, milk, and bread. The food pantry is open three days a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 1:30 - 3:30 pm. According to Barnes, they now have the food pantry down to a science and know what college students do and do not eat, so they try to only gather things they know will be taken.
When they were first created, it was launched with support from tribes and clubs. Before its opening, there was a big competition between all the social clubs and tribes to see who could donate the most items. Now, they get donations of food from student organizations on campus, faculty donations, and sometimes get random big donations from places like Samaritans' Purse or Walmart. Barnes says that MC uses financial donations from organizations and the community to buy whatever isn’t donated.
In the beginning, it didn’t have many barriers. Many were supportive of its creation, but there was the question of where it could be located. They needed a space where the needs of the food pantry could be met, but also, the space needed to provide a little anonymity for any students wanting to receive food. According to Benson, a space was oddly easy to find once they started looking.
In the space that formerly served as the computer service offices, the food pantry now occupies. As that office moved spaces, the food pantry was able to take its place. At its current location, there is room for storage and the pantry itself according to Barnes.
One problem they do face now and will face in the future is the consistency of donations. According to Barnes, oftentimes, there are random calls to give donations, but she never knows when these will occur. These donations often go straight on the shelf, not in storage, as the food pantry will always need items.
Benson also mentioned that as the need increases, so will the need for funds and donations. Looking forward, Benson stated, “Our hope is to be a little bit more financially stable and proactive in preparing for students to come versus reactive based on what donation amounts we have.” That could occur through consistent donations, which allow those over the pantry to be able to set a budget for items needed, but the food pantry will always accept anything anyone is willing to give.
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