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Thursday, May 6, 2021

Whatcom Community College opens food pantry

Whatcom Community College's "Orca Food Pantry" is open to all students who can't afford a meal. The pantry is located on the second floor of Syre Student Center and is open during college hours. // Photo by Morgan Stilp-Allen.
Whatcom Community College’s “Orca Food Pantry” is open to all students who can’t afford a meal. The pantry is located on the second floor of Syre Student Center and is open during college hours. // Photo by Morgan Stilp-Allen.

As of the beginning of fall quarter, Whatcom Community College instituted a free donation-based resource for students struggling to afford groceries called the Orca Food Pantry.

Sue Cole, the executive director of institutional advancement at Whatcom Community College, said a conversation on food resources began after hearing students were considering leaving school to save money, and faculty members were giving students food when they couldn’t afford lunch. Cole then partnered with student government, faculty, staff and the Whatcom Community College Foundation to create the pantry.

“We had heard anecdotally about a student who was very active in school, was in student government, very diligent, working in some community things and jobs, and was thinking, and telling people, that he was going to have to drop out of school because he couldn’t afford school, and afford to buy groceries and pay for his living expenses,” Cole said.

Whatcom joined one-third of the 34 community colleges in Washington state in offering some sort of food resource for students.

According to Feeding America, the country’s biggest nonprofit aimed toward combating hunger, around half of  its clients are college students who skip meals and eat less in order to afford the price of attending a university.

Sophomore Emma Bigongiari, president of Western’s Students for Sustainable Food club, said her group wants to help students who don’t have access to wholesome nourishing options.

“Having a food pantry at Western would be a really good step, especially for students who are low-income, students who are struggling to get access to produce and healthy foods that are maybe more expensive,” Bigomgiari said.

“The cupboards fill up, the cupboards go bare, they fill up again, so clearly people are using it and people need it.”

Sue Cole

The dining hall was junior Dominic Luciani’s main source of food during his first two years at Western, and felt he was always running out of money his freshman year, an issue experienced by both his mother and sister during their college careers too.

“My sister’s first year at (the University of Washington), she didn’t have a dining plan, so she had to buy those little cartons of goldfish, but the tiny ones, she ate those for lunch and dinner,” Luciani said. “That was her meal.”

Both Bigomgiari and Luciani believe a food pantry at Western would be a useful addition to combat student hunger.

“Part of food justice is accessibility and making sure everyone has access to healthy food, because we believe that food is a human right, and healthy food is a human right,” said Bigomgiari.

For Cole and her staff, creating the Orca Food Pantry is already paying off.

“The cupboards fill up, the cupboards go bare, they fill up again, so clearly people are using it and people need it,” Cole said. “It’s sad, but I’m glad that we can help in this way.”

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