MCC food pantry fills an increasing need

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Meridian Community College’s food pantry is tucked away in a closet in Smith Hall. Brenda Fortson, MCC support services coordinator, oversees the pantry.

Hunger reaches children and adults. It also affects college students.

“We’ve used the food pantry a lot,” said Brenda Fortson, Meridian Community College support services coordinator, who oversees the college’s pantry that provides food for those in need. In her records for spring semester 2019, there have been 16 times in which food has been requested. For the fall term of 2018, the number was 50.

“I don’t know if times are tougher or people are becoming more aware of the food pantry, but we have used it a lot,” Fortson said.

The college’s food pantry began 10 years ago when then social sciences division chair Diane Sollie came up with the idea to help students who needed food. Sollie, in turn, asked Fortson to help. “I have filled up that food pantry and emptied so many time since it was started,” Fortson said.

The pantry is an extended closet in Smith Hall, tucked in between classrooms and offices. Inside are 7-foot shelves that not only hold food but also bottled water, sample size toiletries, nursing uniforms and shoes and paper products.

Receiving is a matter of asking; MCC food pantry recipients do not submit an application for food.

“You say you need food. You give me your MCC ID. You get food,” Fortson said, explaining the process. In distributing the items, she said, “I try to make it painless, and I don’t talk about it. They just want to get the food and go.”

Requests and reasons for using the food pantry come in a myriad of ways. One student emailed Fortson asking for assistance. “Her son had been sick, and she had to miss a few days of work, which caused her paycheck to be less. And it would be several days before her husband got paid and they needed some food. She’s never gotten food before,” Fortson said.

Forston described another student who’s studying in a career and technical education program. “He works very little – just on the weekends - because he is in school. So, his income is not very much,” she said. The MCC food pantry helped his family get that food.

In early fall, Fortson and colleague Gina Mills, special populations coordinator, speak to students providing information about the support services available at MCC. After one session, Fortson remembered before she reached her car to leave, “two people came to me and said, ‘Hey. How soon can I get some food from your pantry?’ One of those was a single mom, and the other was a single dad who was not working, and his wife’s income was not taking care of all of their needs.”

“There are sacrifices some folks have to make so they can upgrade their skills. Not having enough food should not be something they have to deal with,” Fortson said.

Campus groups – from organizations to athletes - help to fill and restock the pantry shelves as do individuals and churches. Valley, a food service vendor for the College, collected canned goods from its patrons and gave to the pantry.

What items are on the shelves? “It’s not filet mignon food. It’s Spam and tuna and dollar store canned vegetable food,” Forston said. “I ask for things we’re out of or low on,” Fortson said when she sends a campus-wide request. “I try to keep in mind what can be used to make a meal… like canned chicken, chicken broth, mixed vegetables. That’s a pot of soup.” She also thinks of foodstuff for children who get up in the morning and go to school by themselves who can grab something to eat – without having to turn on a stove.

Pantry is burden lifter

“I’ve always taken pride in being self-sufficient,” said a beneficiary of the MCC Food Pantry who asked to be anonymous. “However, in the past year, I have run into several hardships and unable to buy food.”

Often there were times that there was no money for gas or medicine much less food. That’s when the MCC Food Pantry became a burden-lifter for the recipient. “Because of the generosity of the people of this campus, I was able to piece it together and get through.”

The recipient shares information about the MCC Food Pantry with others on campus. “I feel the food pantry is a blessing and a huge testament to our community and MCC. I have always tried to help others in need since I have been blessed from this program, and that keeps me encouraged and proud to be a part of this College.”

On the list

Needs for the MCC Food Pantry are: peanut butter, jelly, crackers, granola/breakfast bars, Poptarts, oatmeal, grits, cereal, juice, rice, beef stew, chicken broth, chunky-style soup, canned chicken, tuna, ham, Chicken, Tuna Helper, toothpaste, soap, dishwashing liquid, laundry detergent.

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