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Little Free Pantry Helping to Feed Needy Hawkeye Community College Students

posted on Friday, February 22, 2019 in  College News

WATERLOO—Hawkeye Community College students facing hunger issues can find some help by heading over to the campus library.

Just inside the entryway is the Little Free Pantry, a wooden structure sitting on a small table. It has a couple shelves typically filled with canned and boxed food plus personal care items that overflow onto the table.

The tiny food pantry debuted in January 2018 and is now maintained by students in the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. Students take turns filling it with donated items stored in a back room of the library.

“Our goal this semester is spreading the word on campus and letting students know there is a pantry,” said Bekki Zuck, a first-year student who has been helping with the effort. She noted that users don’t have to sign up for anything. It is available to people who need food for any reason, whether that’s a single day or a longer term situation.

“As we were kind of diving in,” said Zuck, she began “realizing how big of a need it was.” At one point, she was sitting next to a classmate who complained about being hungry and having no money in a meal account. Because of embarrassment, it was initially hard to convince the student to check out the Little Free Pantry.

“Anybody could be having a problem with food. It’s really hard to focus on school if you’re hungry,” added Zuck.

Little Free Pantries have popped up across the country, inspired by the Little Free Library movement. According to littlefreepantry.org and media accounts, the effort was started in 2016 by Jessica McClard in Fayetteville, Ark. Some of the pantry organizers have registered through the website, including at least 14 in Iowa. Hawkeye’s site is not on the website, but another Waterloo pantry at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, 420 Harwood Ave., is registered.

Others across Iowa are in Ankeny, Cedar Rapids, Cherokee, Clinton, Des Moines, Early, Fort Dodge, Johnston, Marion, Norwalk, Oskaloosa, Pella and State Center.

Initially, Hawkeye’s pantry was getting donations directly from faculty and staff. “That’s not a sustainable model,” said Tim Adamson, a philosophy professor and co-adviser to the honor society.

So students got more involved. To facilitate the role of PTK and other students, service-based classes have been created. Adamson said eight students enrolled first semester with another four currently in the class.

The class analyzed what foods were most popular to get a better understanding of student needs. One thing they found is canned vegetables are not a favorite. Another discovery was how much the pantry is being used.

“We found last semester $250 a week (in products) is being put out,” said Zuck, based on students’ price-matching of what was donated.

Added Adamson, “We all were humbled and maybe shocked by the amount of food going out.”

Various sources are now helping to keep the pantry stocked. As a result, the supply has been growing, going from filling three cupboards in the library last semester to seven now.

During last fall’s student food drive, half of the items donated at the college were allowed to be diverted to the pantry rather than sent to the Northeast Iowa Food Bank, said Adamson. Donations have been received from Veridian Credit Union, and organizers have applied for a grant from Walmart.

A $200 donation earlier in the year was used to make up holiday care packages for the families of children at the campus day care.

“We’re hoping to keep this project going and also use it as a model for service learning,” said Adamson.

Student Trevor Kruger, a parent of a second-grader at Orange Elementary, helped to get the school involved in donations through its parent teacher organization.

“Orange has been awesome,” he said. “Anything they’re doing, they do full bore.”

Principal Sunni Hart said the school’s involvement centered around activities resulting from an initiative to give a book to the family of each student. In Katherine Applegate’s book “Crenshaw,” the main character and his family become homeless.

“Our culminating event here was to do some service projects,” she said, inspired by the book. That included collecting nonperishable food items for Hawkeye’s pantry throughout the month of February. As of Thursday, they had four big boxes of food.

The college is an active Partner in Education with Orange. Hawkeye students volunteer in classrooms, and the school hosts education students completing their practicum hours.

“We are always asking ourselves how can we give back to them,” said Hart.

By Andrew Wind, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier

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