January 27

SMCC’s pantry gives students with food insecurity a new option

It recognizes a growing issue for many college students: having to choose between feeding their minds and filling their bellies.

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — Jessie Santangelo peers into the freezer and emerges with some French bread. A minute later, she grabs a can of soup and some pasta, and adds it to her cardboard box.

click image to enlarge

Leanna Shields, director of the Captain’s Cupboard at Southern Maine Community College, says, “People were asking themselves, ‘Do I buy a book, or do I buy food?’ ”

Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

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Jessie Santangelo and her roommate Joseph Carroll use the student food pantry at SMCC in South Portland for the first time. “It’s been really hard. Money is really tight,” said Santangelo, 20, a second-year culinary arts student.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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It’s her first time at the Captain’s Cupboard, the new student food pantry at Southern Maine Community College.

It opened in November in recognition of what poverty experts say is a growing issue for college and university students: food insecurity. Food pantries also operate at University of Maine in Orono and at Kaplan University in Lewiston.

“It’s been really hard. Money is really tight,” says Santangelo, 20, a second-year culinary arts student. She’s a little embarrassed to be here, she says, but between school expenses and rent, and the small income she earns working part time doing banquet prep at a hotel, she finds herself here. And grateful for it.

“It’s nice to have it. I’m hoping work will kick in pretty soon,” she said.

Southern Maine Community College officials partnered with the college’s honors society, Phi Theta Kappa, to create the food pantry after a 2012 campuswide survey found that about 9 percent of the school’s roughly 8,000 students go without eating because of financial circumstances (about 700 students) and almost 1 percent, or about 65 students, are homeless.

“What we learned was that there was a real need,” said Leanna Shields, the president of the honor society and director of the food pantry. “People were asking themselves, ‘Do I buy a book, or do I buy food?’ ”

More college students are having to ask that question, experts say.

There are about 125 campuses nationwide with food pantries, and more where they are being considered, according to Nate Smith-Tyge, director of the nation’s oldest campus food bank, which opened in 1993 at Michigan State University. He frequently gets calls, usually from student clubs, looking for advice about how to set up a food pantry.

“All the time, other campuses are looking to set up food pantries. They’ve really grown,” said Smith-Tyge, who is also active in the College and University Food Bank Alliance, a nationwide group created last year to be a resource for interested schools.

The need is growing as students struggle to pay rising tuition costs amid a still-bleak job market. Housing, transportation and food costs are rising. More “nontraditional” students are going back to college and supporting families. Even traditional students who go to college right out of high school have less support from home because of the economy, Smith-Tyge said.

“All that creates the environment that leads to food insecurity on campus,” Smith-Tyge said.

The Captain’s Cupboard, housed in the newly renovated Captain’s House on the SMCC campus in South Portland, is also a test site for Good Shepherd Food-Bank’s new College and University Food Pantry Program. Kaplan University also partners with Good Shepherd for supplies, according to Shannon Coffin, who oversees child hunger initiatives for Good Shepherd Food-Bank.

“Both schools reached out to us. ... It is something that has been happening across the country,” Coffin said.

Coffin said many of the students in need are those returning to school, or young families trying to make ends meet while getting an education to improve their job prospects.

“It’s a way to meet them where they are and help them have a successful academic career,” she said. “If you have a family and you are trying to go to school, and you are sacrificing whatever income you were able to make, and you have to work at least part time and you are dealing with children and school – it just becomes overwhelming.”

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