by Raymond Devine
Educators today often perform a complicated role in their community. Responsibilities go beyond teaching in the classroom, and often the charges extend and touch the personal lives of their students.
A current example is the case with students who may be food insufficient as they thread their way through classes and homework. That is why a dedicated group of staff and faculty at Chestnut Hill College, under the direction of Cecelia J. Cavanaugh, SSJ, Ph.D., dean of undergraduate studies, worked together to create a solution for students experiencing food insecurity or insufficiency. The outcome of that collaboration is the Food Pantry.
After a full year of many meetings and much planning, the Food Pantry is now a reality. Last month, in February, the pantry opened at the College on the first floor of Saint Joseph Hall, outside the Office of Student Financial Services. On Feb. 15, a blessing was held to celebrate its official opening.
Staff and faculty, along with students themselves, supervise pantry hours and welcome any student who may be in need of a quick bite, a Wawa sandwich, and one of the biggest attractions — microwave mac and cheese. These are just a few of the food items that are available, said Clare Doyle, M.A., M.Ed., associate director of student success.
Anyone may donate nonperishable items to the Food Pantry, and anyone may visit it for assistance. Inside there are shelves; a freezer, donated by parishioners from St. Philip Neri Church in Lafayette Hill; and a refrigerator, a contribution from the Sisters of Saint Joseph. To keep the pantry consistently stocked, Wawa sends food weekly, and community members bring food and make contributions of both time and money.
Keely E. McCarthy, Ph.D., associate professor of English, said she realized through her own students’ work that food insecurity is “a national problem.”
“It is important that we all talk about it,” McCarthy said. “Some colleges have information on their websites about how to apply for food stamps and local food banks, and many have food pantries on campus. We can help by being aware, recommending students in need to the pantry and by educating ourselves and our community about the causes of food insecurity.”
A persistent curiosity in our land-of-plenty society, food insecurity consists of not having a regular source for food or money for food. Going hungry, in other words. Inevitably, hunger brings with it its unwelcome partners distraction and worry. As a result, students may acquire a low-attention span, as they cannot focus when they are hungry. This can lead to falling asleep in class, skipping class altogether, and even dropping out of school.
The College’s push to establish a food pantry is backed by research. According to a first-of-its-kind survey by researchers at Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, 36 percent of students at 66 surveyed colleges and universities do not get enough to eat. One of the reasons this is occurring on colleges and universities across the country is that, with rising tuition and financial aid fees, students are short on money for food.
The College is in touch with Nutritional Development Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Philabundance, whose CEO has been invited to campus.
As the Food Pantry moves into its second month of successful operation, Doyle is reminded of a Maya Angelou quote: “People may forget what you said, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” It is obvious that students who are benefitting from the food pantry will never forget how interested staff and faculty made them feel as they “shopped” in the food pantry. One day, the College hopes, these same students will pay it forward.
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