Dani Trimble first learned that hunger was a problem at Lower Columbia College during campus events that featured free food.
“We’d have students come up and say, ‘Wow, this was really great. This was the first time I’ve eaten this week because I don’t have money for food,’ ” said Trimble, LCC’s director of workforce and career services.
Food For Thought, a pantry that supplies free food to staff and students, grew out of that concern.
Trimble, acting student program director Paz Clearwater and the college’s student government opened the pantry in January. It provides both non-perishable groceries — canned food, pasta, boxed meals, etc. — as well as sandwiches, granola bars and other grab-and-go snacks for in between classes. It’s served more than 50 individual students and distributed over 400 pounds of food in its first month, according to Trimble.
Trimble said the average age of an LCC student is 32, so many pantry visitors need groceries to feed entire families. Because of this, the pantry also offers baby formula and food.
One of those students is Longview resident Jennifer Sergeant, who has two kids ages 3 and 5. Sergeant, 25, said she visits the pantry every day for lunch and takes home groceries once a week.
“I work at Burger King on Oregon Way, and I haven’t been getting many hours, so money’s been tight,” she said. “If I wouldn’t have come here last week, I probably would’ve run out of food for my kids.”
Sergeant added that one of her close friends, a 17-year-old student, also grabs groceries from the pantry almost daily because her mother can’t work due to disabilities.
According to a 2016 study conducted by multiple groups, including the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, 32 percent of community college and university students surveyed said a lack of food impacted their education. Within that group, 80 percent said they didn’t do as well academically as they could have because of their nutrition deficiency.
Food for Thought is located on the second floor of the Student Center. To sign up for the pantry, patrons must fill out an online form to confirm their LCC affiliation; answer questions about their housing, finances and transportation; and state whether they’ve used other campus student support programs. Trimble said this questionnaire is used to connect pantry users with resources that could help them in the long-term.
“We want to help (students and faculty) now and get them food, but we also want to help them with other supports that they may need,” she said.
When someone asks for food, they are given a chart that helps them figure out exactly what groceries they might need.
The pantry provides more than just food, however. In front of the pantry is a clear plastic filing cabinet with drawers filled with personal care items, including over-the-counter medicine, shampoo and tampons. There is no sign-in required for these items: Anyone can just grab something they need.
To kick-start the pantry, LCC’s student government donated $3,000, and the group’s vice president of activities, Lily James, said it spends around $100 per week to restock the food bank. Student government is responsible for purchasing the food weekly.
Trimble said anyone can donate food or money to assist the pantry, and the program has already recieved a fair amount of donations. However, nobody is quite sure about how much running the pantry will cost, since it just started.
Regardless of the program’s finances, the students that use the pantry appreciate how it’s positively impacted their lives.
“It helps out a lot of people, and I’m really glad that it’s here,” Sergeant said.