Elgin Community College's student-run Spartan Food Pantry now can supply patrons with fresh vegetables grown in two garden beds at Advocate Sherman Hospital's Natural Prairie and Community Garden.
The hospital allows ECC's food pantry use of the garden beds at no cost to students. The college's Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society students, who manage the food pantry, also have been tending to the garden every other day since April.
"The Spartan Food Pantry has experienced an amazing year with the addition of the community garden beds at Advocate Sherman Hospital," said Amybeth Maurer, ECC director of orientation and student life and Phi Theta Kappa adviser. "It's inspiring to see PTK members nurture their vegetable garden so that other ECC students will have access to healthy options in the food pantry, and it's encouraging to watch students learn valuable, lifelong skills in the process."
Carrots, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, peas and other vegetables are grown under the instruction of University of Illinois Extension master gardeners. Certified master gardeners volunteer their time conducting horticultural educational programming. They helped students decide which vegetables to grow and how to care for them.
One in five ECC students face significant financial challenges, according to ECC's Planning and Institutional Effectiveness Office.
During the spring semester, more than 550 students visited ECC's pantry more than 1,700 times. For some students, receiving a free bag of groceries helps them pay for other expenses.
"Having an on-campus food pantry is important to removing the stigma around food pantries," said Erin Humpfer, former food pantry officer. "The food pantry is a judgment-free zone. We are happy to help our fellow students out … no questions asked."
Phi Theta Kappa students established the food pantry in February 2015 after a yearlong project focused on hunger during which they volunteered at area food pantries and soup kitchens. Students later realized food insecurity affected their classmates and friends as well.
Current ECC students can use ECC's pantry for weekly groceries or to grab a snack between classes. It is in Building B, Room B175. For more information or to make a donation, visit elgin.edu.