Paulanne’s Pantry helps MCC students fight food insecurity
By Cheyenne Atchison
Thirty-six percent of students at 66 surveyed colleges and universities do not have enough to eat, according to a Temple University and Wisconsin HOPE Lab study. Food insecurity among college students is a growing concern across the United States, and universities are working to find solutions to address this problem.
McLennan Community College is fighting food insecurity with Paulanne’s Pantry, a campus food pantry that provides meat, produce, canned and other nonperishable items to MCC students and faculty in need. As the associate director of MCC’s Completion Center, Letitia Monsey oversees the pantry. Before coming to Waco in 2017 to be closer to family, she worked at the University of Texas at Austin – a different campus experience than MCC.
“People go to a community college for different reasons,” Monsey said. “At UT, a bachelor’s degree was always the end goal. Here, there is a lot more diversity in the student body, which is what I was looking for.”
Many of the services provided by the Completion Center were also offered at UT, but in multiple offices rather than one. Since Monsey first came to MCC, changes have been made to allow Completion Center staff to allocate their time and resources to specific projects, such as the food pantry.
The earliest records of an MCC food pantry date back to 2007. At one point, it may have been housed in a staff member’s office. It was later reopened, and by 2015, it moved to its current location in the Completion Center. The next goal was to secure finances and use a standard budget for long-term sustainability.
As more students started using the pantry, the Completion Center staff found that issues concerning academic performance and attendance were related to food insecurity. Some students dropping out of school said they needed more time to work so they could purchase food. Conversely, some students may have spent all their money on food, forfeiting other payments for electricity or water bills, which could also lead to decreased attendance.
“We found so many students that had a need,” Monsey said. “When we had students sit in our offices, we could build enough trust to learn that they didn’t have food. It was having those conversations that allowed us to give them what they needed.”
Most of the food provided in the pantry comes from the Central Texas Food Bank. MCC established that partnership prior to 2017. MCC places an online order for the food, then twice a month, the Completion Center staff along with interns from the Tarleton State University social work program pick up the order from Acts Church. The food is then unloaded and organized in the pantry. Each load weighs between 1,200 and 1,900 pounds and averages around $250 at the discounted rate provided by the food bank. The MCC Foundation handles the food pantry fund and provides the funds to purchase food.
For daily operations, the Completion Center staff will check students in, walk them through the process, and stock the pantry shelves, along with a handful of volunteers from around campus. Volunteers must be trained in handling sensitive topics and student privacy.
When the building was due for a renovation, the pantry was expanded and received a $5,700 grant from the Texas Higher Education Foundation, which provided the funds to improve the check-in process and purchase a new refrigerator and freezer. With the ability to hold more produce and proteins, and some decorations, the pantry is now more accommodating and welcoming. It was reopened and renamed “Paulanne’s Pantry” last month in honor of Paulanne Ream Hoover, who left a portion of her estate to fund an endowment for the pantry.
As for the future of the pantry, Monsey wants to continue to serve the students and faculty of MCC, but she hopes there will eventually come a day when their help is no longer needed.
“Ideally, society will answer the problem to the point that we don’t need the pantry,” Monsey said. “Until then, we will continue to serve students and meet their needs. Right now, we’re at a good pace of what we have: we anticipate need, and we meet it. I want to sustain that.”
The Completion Center serves as a resource to provide the additional help students need to be successful. The purpose is to remove obstacles that hinder a student’s ability to progress and complete their goals. Like an intake center, the staff at the Completion Center talks with students to pinpoint areas of distress and find the right resources in a compassionate way.
“That’s where we’re different from other offices on campus,” Monsey said. “They are very distinct in what they do, we do whatever needs to be done to help the student. We take a holistic view of other things that are needed to complete the degree.”
To make a financial donation to Paulanne’s Pantry, contact the MCC Foundation at 254-299-8606 or email Kim Patterson at [email protected].
Cheyenne Atchison is a junior at Baylor University studying Marketing and Public Relations, and currently serves as an intern in the Marketing and Communications Department at McLennan Community College.
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