Food for Thought

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.  According to Dr. Alison Harmon, professor of food and nutrition and sustainable food systems at Montana State University, 13 percent of U.S. households experience food insecurity on a regular basis. The percentage is higher for Flathead Valley Community College students, according to a survey conducted by the college in 2016.

“Most FVCC students are living on a very tight budget,” FVCC Student Engagement Coordinator Wendy Jeschke said. “If their vehicle breaks down or they have an unplanned medical expense, the first thing many students will do is decrease their food budget. They may even skip meals.”

To help remedy this problem, FVCC opened a food pantry for students in 2018.  Student food pantries are not uncommon on American campuses today. FVCC modeled its pantry after those at Montana State University-Billings and Great Falls College. To access the pantry, students must show their student I.D. card, but beyond that, there are no other qualifications for receiving aid.

“We are here to serve our students, and we don’t discriminate on whom we help… all students are welcome,” Jeschke said.

In addition to nonperishable food items such as peanut butter and cereal, the FVCC Student Food Pantry provides personal care necessities, like toothbrushes and feminine hygiene products. More than 500 pounds of food and other items were distributed to students during the spring and fall semesters of 2018. Donations come from staff and faculty, students and community members. A friendly food drive competition among college departments at the beginning of 2019 resulted in nearly 750 pounds of items to restock the shelves.

The pantry is staffed by a team of dedicated student volunteers who keep the pantry open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. If students need to access the pantry outside of normal hours of operation, they can make an appointment with Jeschke.

Jeschke has big plans for the future of the pantry. In addition to strengthening FVCC’s partnerships with other community organizations addressing food insecurity, Jeschke and her student volunteers will continue to work on breaking down the social stigma that tends to accompany accessing the pantry’s services.  Someday she hopes to be able to offer frozen foods to students, as well as items such as bus passes and cooking utensils.

To learn more about the FVCC Student Food Pantry, including how to access its services or make a donation, visit www.fvcc.edu/student-food-pantry or call Jeschke at 756-3908.

In order to create more awareness about the problem of food insecurity, Flathead Valley Community College will host Dr. Alison Harmon’s presentation of “$3 a Day – Building Empathy and Compassion for the Food Insecure” on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. Free and open to the community, the presentation will begin at 7 p.m. in the large community room of the Arts & Technology Building. 

Dr. Harmon will provide a snapshot of both global and local hunger and detail the results of the “Food Insecurity Experience,” an empathy-building project in which she and her students at Montana State University put themselves on a very limited food budget in order to understand some of the physical, mental and emotional consequences of living with food insecurity. 

Watch Dr. Harmon’s 2018 presentation on this subject delivered at Bozeman Pecha-Kucha Night.