Durham Tech food pantry helps daily visitors, prepares for fall students

Jul. 17, 2013 @ 05:17 PM

Gregory Lake examined cans of tomato sauce and tuna fish lining the shelves, picking up cans and reading the labels.

In the bowels of Durham Technical Community College’s Campus Harvest Food Pantry, there are boxes of toasted oats cereal and Ramen noodles. There’s a snack bin, where students drop by between classes to pick up granola bars or cups of Easy Mac.
Lake decided Wednesday afternoon on the cream of mushroom soup and yellowfin tuna.
“I’m a chef,” Lake said. “I just don’t have anything to cook.”
Since Durham Tech’s food pantry opened in January, about 250 students have come through its doors, looking for a snack or groceries. Most students have learned about the pantry through word-of-mouth. 
This summer, the pantry has helped an average of 50 visitors per week, with a third of them enrolled in English as a Second Language courses. And this fall, the pantry is looking for more nonperishable food and produce donations, said Sally Parlier, Durham Tech’s volunteer services coordinator.
The pantry serves everyone with a Durham Tech ID, whether it’s offering the simple package of pretzels that quells a rumbling stomach at lunch or the bag of heirloom tomatoes that helps a family of four make ends meet.
“We have students that may not be able to bring food from home or may not have a home to prepare food at,” Parlier said.
Students are allowed to fill a bag with groceries once a week and can visit Monday through Thursday for snacks.
The project was born on MLK Day, when students passed out 50 emergency bags of food during a day of service.
Those bags were gone within 15 minutes, Parlier said, which made Durham Tech realize there was an extreme need in the community. The DTCC Foundation provided grant money to get the pantry started, and since its beginnings, places like Panera Bread and the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina make donations.
Parlier has met students who live out of their cars or others who are dealing with a death in the family. Some students only visit once a month, when money gets tight.
“We have a need very close to home here,” Parlier said. “We have students who’ve reported that they’ve been homeless or in transitional housing.”
Lake, a 25-year-old DTCC student dual-majoring in psychology and sociology, said he doesn’t have time in-between classes to run home for lunch. When his English teacher told him about the food pantry last week, he decided to stop by.
In a small office within the Phillips Building on campus, he chose some groceries and picked a bag of tomatoes out of the fridge. He said he shares groceries with his roommate, and he travels from Carrboro to get to school.
“Bills, though,” Lake said. “The college lifestyle is not cheap.”
The pantry is a place where students won’t be asked for their bill statements, Parlier said. They just need their student ID and they need to fill out a short intake form, which lets Parlier know if students are aware of all the resources available to them.
She will remember a student’s face or name if they’ve visited before. A lot of DTCC students are eligible for financial aid but are not eligible for food stamps, she said, leaving many of them stuck in the middle and looking for help.
Many of the students who visit the pantry become donors. Some will take 15 minutes between classes to help Parlier clean up, and others will donate food.
“It’s often those people who’ve been in those different situations (will) know the value of something like this,” she said.
Since last August, students also have visited the Briggs Avenue Community Garden on Fridays and Saturdays to tend to Durham Tech’s plot. This summer, the school has grown squash, tomatoes and blackberries from the land, and the produce is delivered to the pantry where it sits, fresh and waiting, in the fridge.
“I know that we’ll see some returning faces,” Parlier said about the fall semester. “…We really try to take care of our own here.” 

To donate food items or fresh produce to the pantry, email Sally Parlier at parliers@durhamtech.edu. They are always in need of nonperishable food items such as canned meats, soups, beans and rice. Their ready-to-eat snacks go fast, so they need items such as Ramen noodles, Easy Mac and granola bars.
To volunteer in the Briggs Avenue garden, visit nccommunitygardens.blogspot.com.
The pantry is in the Phillips Building, 310A, on DTCC main campus. The summer schedule for the pantry: Grocery bags are available Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.; Ready-to-eat meals and snacks are available Monday through Thursday, noon to 2 p.m. Clients must bring a valid DTCC ID to receive food.