Wor-Wic Community College students struggling to afford their next meal now have to look no further than campus grounds.
To help combat hunger, the college started its own community garden this summer and will open an accompanying food pantry Sept. 18. All the produce from the garden plus dry and canned foods provided through the Maryland Food Bank Eastern Shore branch will be free and available to all Wor-Wic students with a valid ID card.
“When a student has to focus on where they’re going to eat or where their family is going to eat, they’re just not able to concentrate,” said Bryan Newton, vice president of enrollment management and student services.
The idea came about when Wor-Wic President Ray Hoy discussed his initiative to fight student food insecurity at a Wor-Wic Community College Foundation fundraising event, Newton said. After reading through national statistics on the topic, Hoy saw a need on campus and with the available space, it only made sense to address it.
Wor-Wic looked at Wisconsin HOPE Lab statistics and according to a March 2017 national report, 67 percent of students attending community college deal with some variation of food insecurity. Thirty-three percent of those students deal with food insecurity at the lowest level.
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Wor-Wic, like many community colleges around Maryland and the U.S., deal with food insecure students. This is one of the many ways the college is working to make its students successful, Hoy said.
“They can’t meet their goals if they’re focusing on hunger,” he said.
With about 10,000 credit and noncredit students a year, much of Wor-Wic’s enrollment comes from the surrounding three county area of Wicomico, Somerset and Worcester. Newton said with students coming from the K-12 school system, which offers free or reduced meals, it can be a difficult transition to college with the new financial hurdles of tuition, housing, transportation and other expenses.
“Food can be difficult to fit into that,” he said.
The garden and pantry are primarily funded through the Wor-Wic Foundation with help from other fundraising efforts. The amount of money raised through donations is still being calculated, with money still being raised.
Angel West, purchasing specialist, said a committee formed in the spring to come up with a list of vegetables to grow. With the budget and the space they had, 10 four-by-four raised beds were created in mid-June.
Wor-Wic faculty, staff and clubs were invited to adopt a bed and help with the planting and maintenance. Newton said about 40 people helped with the planting process this summer.
“We’ve had cucumbers, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, jalapeño peppers, more basil than you can imagine (and) eggplant,” West said.
One of the clubs was the Phi Theta Kappa chapter on campus. Betsie Cottrell, chapter president, has helped with the garden since its conception and Phi Theta Kappa will continue to help throughout the school year through fundraisers and volunteering, she said.
Cottrell thinks the garden and soon-to-open pantry is great for the students, to allow those who are food insecure to stop worrying about their next meal and focus on their education.
“If it were me I would rather have that meal than that textbook, though I take my education very seriously,” she said. “If I were in such a situation I would want to afford everything I possibly could to further my education.”
With the fall term beginning, Newton said the garden and pantry are looking for more volunteers to make the initiative bigger. The current raised beds will be replaced with permanent raised beds this fall or early spring.
The new beds will be up for the same adoption process. West said during the summer, there were more interested in adopting than available beds. But, as the initiative grows, she sees the garden expanding.
“Everybody has their own little slice of the garden to take care of,” Newton said.
After Sept. 18, the food pantry will be open Mondays noon to 2 p.m. and Tuesdays 4 to 6 p.m. The college will accept dry and canned food donations, but through the Maryland Food Bank, the institution can purchase food in bulk for a low cost and give to students for free.
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No student will be turned away, Newton said. Every Wor-Wic student who participates will go through an assessment for statistical data the college can return to the food bank.
Newton said the end goal of this project is to act as a stop-gap for hungry students. While the college cannot supply students with all the food they need, the garden and pantry can provide a student one to two bags of food a month, or families a few bags at a time to help provide meals.
This initiative is meant to forgo those food barriers and help students complete their degrees without worrying about meals on top of college’s other demands, he said.
“We know the needs of our population are there and this is just one way we’re trying to meet them,” Newton said.