service-learning for Student Stability
Food insecurity is one of many barriers to student success at Chemeketa Community College in Salem. Not all students qualify for SNAP, and those who do qualify often run out funds before the end of the month. In 2011, students in Chemeketa’s service-learning course started the food pantry, a free food resource for anyone with a Chemeketa ID. Since then, the food pantry has expanded to include fresh food from the Chemeketa Campus Garden.
Peter Starr, Civic Engagement Coordinator, and AmeriCorps VISTA members Doug Vitro and Skye Hibbard-Swanson have learned a lot about making the food pantry sustainable. This is especially important at a public college when budgets are tight. Below are a few recommendations they have for starting a campus-community project and ensuring its sustainability.
The food pantry and garden require many hours of labor to sort food, distribute food, and manage donations. Volunteers contribute their time through the Community Service Leadership course (CG 123). This allows students to participate in a meaningful service experience on campus while providing the food pantry with a dependable source of volunteers. The students apply the leadership abilities and other skills they learn in the course to their work at the food pantry.
The food pantry received part of its start-up food from the Marion-Polk Food Share, but the success of the program depends on donations from students and faculty. The food pantry receives both in-kind and monetary donations from a variety of sources:
Students complete a confidential survey before they receive items from the food bank. This process avoids waste, empowers users by giving them a choice, collects demographic and usage data, and provides clear preferences to student workers who assemble the bags. Staff have found that the data collected through the surveys is useful for demonstrating community need for the food pantry. Trained staff are also able to connect food pantry use to student retention data by recording student ID numbers.
It’s important that staff and volunteers respond to any privacy concerns. The food pantry collects student ID numbers to ensure that only students, staff, and faculty use the resource and to also understand usage patterns. The ID numbers remain confidential and food pantry use is not reported on transcripts. Food recipients may have misconceptions about confidentiality, so it is important to let students know that their identity will remain private. Food should be distributed in discrete bags, such as reusable book bags from the campus bookstore, so that food recipients do not feel stigmatized.
The food pantry staff and volunteers reach out to all campus departments and offices in order to spread the word about the resource and draw support. Buttons are a cost-effective and easy way to advertise support for the food pantry and campus garden.
Chemeketa Public Affairs reports on the growth of the food pantry. Watch the Youtube video below or read the story.
- Food and Service Learning Initiatives at Chemeketa Community College. A presentation by Skye Hibbard and Peter Starr.
- Chemeketa's food pantry survey and selection sheet (bilingual).
- California Campus Compact, Partnering in Tough Times: Service Learning for Economic Vitality. This publication gives an overview of efforts to engage students in curricular service-learning and civic engagement as a strategy for local economic recovery.