By Madison Rose
COVID-19 has undeniably left a majority of Americans with financial struggles. With lost jobs and reduced hours, working Americans have grappled with food insecurity, many for the first time ever. Grand Rapids Community College students are no different.
In a time when they are needed most, a majority of students are unaware of the resources the school offers to students struggling with food insecurity. GRCC’s food pantry is designed to meet the food needs of students by providing free, non-perishable food items, and other basic necessities, to any student and their families. Packages include non-perishables, refrigerated and frozen foods, hygiene items, and baby items. “Any currently enrolled GRCC student is able to get food. Right now, all students get the same basic package,” said Lina Blair, director of Student Life. “What happens is we pre-package all of the things that would go in your pantry, right? Like all the dry rice, dry beans, canned goods, cereal, oatmeal, granola bars, all of that gets pre-packaged and when students come to our office, the student life office, we have a shopping list that every week some of the items differ. So, for instance, this week we were able to get fish filets, ground beef, sausage patties, and a bunch of other frozen meats so students can choose two of those or let us know if they need hygiene products. They can also let us know if they have a kid or baby that they’re taking care of. They can get diapers, wipes, baby food, formula, those kinds of things as well.”
With the pandemic, the amount of students that visit the food pantry has sharply increased. The 2019-2020 school year had 149 visits, compared to the 2020-2021 school year which has had 1,689 visits so far. However, GRCC students still feel alone when facing food insecurity.
“I would like to also add that I know that students are struggling right now and I think what we could really use help with is students telling other students that the food pantry exists,” said Lina Blair, director of Student Life. “We have done a couple surveys in 2016 and last summer that indicated that 33% of our students struggle with food insecurity. I think the other thing is that a lot of time students tell us that they feel like they’re the only person that has this problem–they call it a problem, but it’s really very common amongst our students. It’s sad when there’s so much shame attached to having to ask for help but really, here at GRCC our students and our faculty and staff really care about each other and so really it’s just a matter of taking care of each other during this really hard time. So, if we can help students share that so there isn’t as much shame when you ask for help that’s really where we need the most help. That would do the most good, I think, and that doesn’t cost anything.”
The Food Distribution center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. To receive a food package, currently enrolled students must visit the front desk of Student Life and Conduct, which is located on the first floor of the student center. Students should be sure to fill out the Student Pantry Intake Form to confirm that they are currently enrolled and should complete the COVID-19 Screening Form on the GRCC Online Center or on the RAVE app before visiting campus. Students are typically in and out of the food pantry within five minutes but should remember to wear a mask, use hand sanitizer, and social distance.
“We know that students’ needs have increased. Students are struggling with food insecurity and housing insecurity,” Blair said. “With the reduction in the workforce, students being able to work their jobs and that sort of thing, we know students are struggling. So, we are trying to do everything we can to make sure that students can eat healthy and get some nutrition so that they can stay in classes and focus on getting their homework down and all those things and not worry about being hungry.”