PCC volunteers rally to box up and deliver food to students in need
Photos and Story by James Hill
With Portland Community College’s student food pantries closed due to the pandemic, staff decided to take the food to the students.
Volunteers put together 400 boxes of non-perishable food donated by the Oregon Food Bank during the Panther Pantry@Home Project on Wednesday, May 26 at the Sylvania Campus in Southwest Portland. PCC Bookstore staff loaded the boxes in their operations vehicles and delivered them to students’ homes around the Portland area.
This one-time event served up to 200 student parents and guardians who are struggling with food insecurity. In addition, the event provided an opportunity for the college to develop a process for ongoing food support in remote operations, as well as find further funding for food pantry operations.
“This will help us build a stronger program going forward,” said DeLinda Martin-Huggins, assistant coordinator for PCC’s Student Life and Leadership. “This is taking all of our Student Leadership and Life students and staff coming together with a passion to better serve our students.”
The need for this project was clear. Earlier this year, Martin-Huggins’ office surveyed current students who utilize the college’s food support systems and resources. The results were that 97% feel that utilizing food support programs at PCC have helped them reach their academic goals, and 74% believe they’ll need to continue to access those programs in the future.
It’s been a tough year for the Panther Pantry with PCC transitioning to online and remote operations. The pantries have been closed since the pandemic hit back in March of 2020, which prevented food insecure students from accessing supplies.
Katie Dover, who is graduating from PCC this June with an associate degree and plans to study business at Portland State University, is a student worker who serves as Student Life and Leadership’s pantry outreach and education coordinator. In light of the closures, Dover has worked on alternative equity projects to benefit students, such as helping award more than $26,000 to fund Open Educational Resources materials created by PCC faculty and organizing a cookbook event where students who signed up received a $25 Safeway gift card.
“The food pantry is one of the most important services that PCC offers, and the fact that it hasn’t been open for more than a year is really awful,” Dover said. “So we created a food pantry taskforce, which included myself and a few student and staff leaders, and we worked for about two months to really organize this and get it off the ground because this is so important. And there are so many students living with food insecurity. To be able to ship out these boxes is such a delight and I’m so glad we did it.”
Heifara Wheeler, who plans to graduate in 2022 with an electrical engineering associate degree, is a student ambassador at the Sylvania Campus. Wheeler said he is working at PCC’s food pantry because of the benefits that it provides students.
“As long as we were open, we always had people coming in,” Wheeler said of the pre-pandemic Panther Pantry. “When we’re closed nobody is coming in. It’s a very good resource to have, and hopefully we can have an open food bank in the very near future.”