Durham Tech pantry sees growing need

Feb. 13, 2013 @ 05:23 PM

One Durham Tech student was living out of a storage locker, and was near tears when he learned that he could get a weekly food bag and daily snacks.

Another student, with a 3-year-old daughter, didn’t know where her next meal was coming from — until she found the pantry.

The response to the community college’s new Harvest Food Pantry “has been definitely more than we expected,” said Erin Riney, Durham Tech’s service coordinator. “Not only are the sheer numbers more than we’d predicted, but also the severity of individual student situations is more dire than we’d known.”

The pantry opened just a few weeks ago, offering boxes of pasta and jars of sauce, cans of green beans and corn and bags of rice, beans and other foodstuffs. Since then, it’s received more than 200 visits from students at the school.

“We thought we had a ballpark idea of what to expect,” said Sally Parlier, the Americorps/Vista volunteer coordinator at Durham Tech. “But we really underestimated. We’ve had just a rush of visits.”

Riney enumerated a couple of factors that probably have contributed to the demand.

“I think we probably didn’t take into account the time of year, what with coming off the holidays and starting off the new year,” she said. “And a lot of students who receive financial aid hadn’t gotten their reimbursements yet, so they were probably finding themselves short, which is why they need the pantry.”

What they’ve needed have been staple items — jars of peanut butter, for instance, as well as ready-to-eat items, like cups of noodles and granola bars.

“They want those ready-to-eat items because people are hungry right this minute.”

Because of the continuing demand, she added, “we are running out of food on an almost daily basis.”

“We’ve been very fortunate to have lots of faculty members who have been raising money and donating and students who have been doing food drives,” Parlier said.

Keeping the pantry stocked “has really been a campus-wide effort,” Riney said. “We’ve really needed that effort, because we can’t wait to replenish supplies since the need may be greatest right now.”

The Durham Tech pantry is apparently the first at a community college in North Carolina but is part of a growing number of pantries at educational institutions across the nation. They first started popping up in the mid 1990’s, but have grown particularly rapidly following the economic downturn that began in 2008.