Durham Tech opening food pantry

Jan. 18, 2013 @ 02:01 PM

There are boxes of pasta and jars of pasta sauce, cans of green beans and corn and bags of rice and beans, and much more.
Durham Tech’s Harvest Food Pantry is ready to open on Tuesday.
“We have a lot of items,” said Erin Riney, the community college’s service coordinator. “But we’re still collecting, are still having a food drive, and hope to have even more.”
The school first started gathering some foodstuffs last January, when the student senate’s MLK service project distributed 50 emergency food bags to students in need. In a little more than 15 minutes, the bags were gone and students were turned away because supplies had run out.
“Many students asked, ‘When’s the next time you’re doing this?’ ” recalled Sally Parlier, the Americorps/Vista volunteer coordinator at Durham Tech. “We realized that there is a lot of need close to home, that a lot of our students didn’t know where their next meal was coming from.”
Some of the students, Riney added, “might be living at a cousin’s house, or even living in their car. They didn’t have food, and didn’t have a way to get food.”
When that happens, she said, “you can’t engage students’ minds when their bodies aren’t nourished or when they’re distracted by the stress of not knowing where their next meal will come from.”
Over the summer, the school began a collaboration with the Briggs Avenue Community Garden, where student volunteers grew produce and distributed it on campus on a first-come, first-served basis.
Demand, once again, quickly exceeded supply and staff at the Community Engagement program at Durham Tech looked for another, more consistent way to address the need for food in the campus community.
In October, working with the student senate, they launched a campaign to stock a permanent food pantry on campus.
“We collected almost 900 pounds of food,” Parlier said. “Students were not just interested in this for themselves, but they saw this need among their friends.”
The idea for the pantry was certainly inspired by other efforts, across the nation, she noted.
Campus food pantries first started popping up in the mid-1990s, but have grown rapidly in the last few years, following the economic downturn. N.C. State University now has one, as does Meredith College in Raleigh. Durham Tech, Riney said, in part modeled its effort on the Guilford College pantry that opened a few years ago.
“Our goal isn’t to solve all our students’ food problems,” Riney said. “We know we can’t do that. But we can reduce a barrier by recognizing students, provide temporary assistance and connect students to local, long-term resources.”
The pantry, located in Durham Tech’s Phillips Building in room 310A, will be open Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Donation bins can be found around campus.