Panther Pantries provide needed catalyst for food insecure students to succeed
This has resulted in fast population growth with rising home prices and rents, adversely impacting vulnerable populations at the low-end of the socio-economic scale. It also means there is less money for food.
These trends have hit Portland Community College students hard with nearly two-thirds reporting they are food insecure. The Association of Community College Trustees conducted analysis on recently released data from the 2016 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study by the U.S. Department of Education. It discovered that one-third of community college students experiencing food and/or housing insecurity were both working and receiving financial aid. And 63 percent of parenting community college students surveyed were food insecure and almost 14 percent were homeless.
“Most of our students have to attend part time because they need to pay for housing, food, transportation, childcare and other living expenses,” said PCC President Mark Mitsui. “They therefore work more and study less and graduate at lower rates than those who can afford to attend full time and work fewer hours while doing so.”
At PCC, more students are accessing resources. In 2017-18, nearly 6,000 students used the Panther Pantries that are based at each comprehensive campus — Cascade, Rock Creek, Southeast and Sylvania. The pantries, which were first started back in 2007 as small food canteens, now help students access food, used clothing, hygiene products, emergency bus passes, applications for child care subsidies, and emergency grants and bus tickets. The pantries receive funding from student fees but also rely on cash donations to operate.
“The Panther Pantries have been a game changer,” said Stephen Arthur, manager of student life and leadership development at the Sylvania Campus. “We can now offer more reliable services every week. We have more and more first-time users to the Panther Pantries, so they are a huge asset.”
Student Tim White operates the Panther Pantry at the Southeast Campus. He is meticulous in how he displays the food — rows are neat and the items are correctly labeled. He does this because he wants students to have dignity while they shop and not have to fight through a mess of donated food.
“The impact of having the pantry here on campus can’t be overstated,” White said. “We want to try to eradicate the stigma of asking for help.”
When he opens the door to the pantry within the main hallway of Mt. Tabor Hall, it’s not long before students stop by to use it. White, who is the campus’ leader of student resources, knows all too well what they are going through.
“I’ve been hungry and have faced food insecurity, too,” he said. “You can’t think of anything else when your hungry. By having the pantry accessible, the students can help themselves by getting rid of the hunger and have piece of mind. They can then focus on their education.”
And it’s not just the food pantries that are helping to fight student hunger but the learning gardens are instrumental, too. PCC has gardens at Rock Creek, Sylvania, Southeast and Newberg that grow fresh produce that is sold at a discount or are provided to the college’s dining services to give students in need access to healthy food. In addition, the PCC Foundation has made it a core initiative to fight food insecurity. It’s raised more than $30,000 in cash and in-kind donations from area stores to fight hunger at the college.
The challenge now is getting the word out about the Panther Pantries so that students who need the food and the assistance know its there. Arthur said they are seeing more and more students accessing the Panther Pantries, whether its for food bags, vouchers or express meals, but more can be helped.
“Students are accessing the resources that help them the most and if having three meals a day does that then that’s a good thing to do,” he said.
Info: The Panther Pantry
Pantries are available at all four main campuses — Rock Creek, Sylvania, Cascade and Southeast. They are designed to help students struggling with food gaps as many experience hunger as they juggle the expenses needed to achieve their educational goals.
Hours & Locations
- Cascade: Student Union ASPCC Information desk: Monday – Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Rock Creek: Building 5 Room 113: Hours vary.
- Southeast: Mount Tabor Hall 105: Monday – Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Sylvania: CC 221: Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.