CLC Connection: Food insecurity among college students
Central Lakes College is committed to providing nutritious food to our students through our food pantries, located on each campus. We encourage students to visit as often as needed, and this semester, an average of 430 students use our food pantries each week.
The success of our students is dependent on so many factors: an excellent learning environment, a strong culture of caring and exposure to unique, hands-on experiences, to name just a few. However, we also know that unless a student's basic needs are met, success is elusive. At CLC, we focus on the whole student and are working hard to be partners to make sure students have everything they need to be successful. One noteworthy example is our program to combat food insecurity. Many are surprised to learn that some of our students simply don’t have reliable access to three meals each day. We know that if students are going to class on empty stomachs, we can’t expect them to learn and grow.
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For this reason, Central Lakes College is committed to providing nutritious food to our students through our food pantries, located on each campus. We encourage students to visit as often as needed, and this semester, an average of 430 students use our food pantries each week.
Student Life Director Erich Heppner has led the effort to eradicate food insecurity at CLC.
“Our motto at the CLC Food Pantry is ‘Eat Well. Study Well.’ We live by that motto as we provide free and nutritious food options to our students, who have clearly stated that without these options, they would go the entire day, and sometimes longer, without eating,” Heppner said. “At CLC, we are training tomorrow’s workforce, and that’s extremely difficult if our future nurses, welders, and social workers are trying to learn on an empty stomach.”
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It is difficult to imagine that college students regularly face hunger, but food insecurity is alarmingly common. Recent data from the Hope Center for College, Community, & Justice indicates that 41% of our Brainerd campus students and 48% of our Staples campus students experience hunger on a regular basis. To meet the growing need, and thanks to generous donors, we are able to do even more. In the coming year, the Brainerd campus food pantry will be expanded from its current 250-square-feet to a 510-square-foot space. This will allow us to outfit the pantry with more refrigeration and freezer space for perishable foods and more shelf space for home goods and fresh produce. The space will build upon our current model by providing stigma-free access to healthy food options.
Heppner adds, “Our students often tell us that the food pantry resembles a mini-mart and is not what they envisioned when they heard that CLC had a food shelf.”
It is undeniable that we could not do this work without the generosity of our communities. For instance, Costco and Target allow us to stop by their facilities on a weekly basis and rescue food that would spoil if it were not donated. In fact, since the beginning of this semester, they have donated over 4,000 pounds of food to the CLC Food Pantry alone. What is even more astounding is that these organizations donate thousands of pounds to our area food shelves as well.
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This is another example of our special communities coming together to make a difference. A special thank you goes out to our 2021 Partners: Crow Wing County Food Shelf Coalition, Second Harvest North Central Food Bank, Crow Wing Energized, University of Minnesota Extension Office, Ruby's Pantry, Target, Costco, The Outreach Program, Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union, Lakewood Church, Lutheran Church of the Cross, the Nisswa Women's Club and the Pan-O-Gold Baking Company. The collective list of those working together to combat food insecurity is powerful.
Of course, many individuals also give generously. Through our partnership with Second Harvest North Central Food Bank, we can stretch every donated dollar into four meals for students. If you want to help us in our mission to eradicate hunger on our campuses, you can visit http://www.clcmn.edu/clc-food-pantry/ to donate, or you can send a check to 501 W. College Dr. Brainerd, MN 56401 Attn: Erich Heppner. Thank you for your support!
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Dr. Hara Charlier is president of Central Lakes College.