ECC students launch food pantry for hungry peers

  • Members of the Elgin Community College branch of Phi Theta Kappa, including Andrew Gentis, 27, of Elgin, sort food as they help in preparations for an on-campus food pantry for students in need. The Spartan Food Pantry will open Feb. 17. It will benefit the 28 percent of ECC students who are economically disadvantaged.

      Members of the Elgin Community College branch of Phi Theta Kappa, including Andrew Gentis, 27, of Elgin, sort food as they help in preparations for an on-campus food pantry for students in need. The Spartan Food Pantry will open Feb. 17. It will benefit the 28 percent of ECC students who are economically disadvantaged. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Mallory Untch, 19, of Algonquin, left, and Jocelyn Acuna, 20, of Elgin, along with other members of the Elgin Community College branch of Phi Theta Kappa sort food in preparation for an on-campus food pantry for students in need. Acuna is the club's president.

      Mallory Untch, 19, of Algonquin, left, and Jocelyn Acuna, 20, of Elgin, along with other members of the Elgin Community College branch of Phi Theta Kappa sort food in preparation for an on-campus food pantry for students in need. Acuna is the club's president. Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 1/27/2015 5:33 AM

Public schools have long fought the battle against hunger so students' nutritional needs are met and they can concentrate better in class.

Yet, that food insecurity doesn't vanish once students graduate, and public colleges are starting to take notice.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Elgin Community College students are launching a food pantry on campus to help their hungry peers. The Spartan Food Pantry will open Feb. 17 and benefit the 28 percent of students who are economically disadvantaged, officials said.

Though housed on the college campus, the pantry will be operated and stocked by members of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.

Community service is part of the society's mission. The idea to open a campus pantry emerged out of a service project its members participated in last year dealing with homelessness and poverty.

Learning about the hunger that exists on campus was eye-opening, said Karina Nava, 25, of Elgin, a Phi Theta Kappa service officer.

"It was pretty shocking to know that students on a regular basis would ask faculty for help with basic things like food," she said. "They spend all day here on campus and they don't have any money to buy food at the cafeteria."

Any student that qualifies for a federal Pell Grant, reports an annual household income below the poverty level, receives public assistance or is eligible for Workforce Investment Act assistance is classified as economically disadvantaged. In spring 2014, 3,153 ECC students fell into that category out of 11,238.

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Few colleges statewide -- College of Lake County, Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, and the University of Illinois -- have similar food programs for low-income students, according to the College and University Food Bank Alliance.

"It feels amazing to be able to do this," Nava said. "It's really great to know that we actually made ECC history and we created something that's going to last for years to come and other students can benefit."

Society members got the support of Elgin Community College President David Sam for their pantry proposal. The college converted an underused 20-by-8-foot space in Building B where the pantry is housed. It's a small cove connected to conference rooms where volunteers can spread out as needed during operation hours, said Amybeth Maurer, director of first-year programs and student life, and a Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society adviser.

Volunteers are still sorting through donations and shelving hasn't been installed yet, Maurer said.

"The college is very supportive and they are doing a lot of the things on the back end, but the students are doing everything from the donations to distribution of the food, and promoting it," she said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Food and monetary donations have been pouring in. So far, students have collected $2,000 funneled through the nonprofit ECC Foundation, the college's charitable arm.

"(Students) don't have to prove that they are in need," Maurer said. "Hopefully, after a semester of operation, we will be able to see how many students we are impacting. One of the things we are trying to do is become a member of the Northern Illinois Food Bank."

The Spartan Food Pantry would have to partner with the ECC foundation to become a member of the food bank, allowing it to purchase food at lower rates and for the staff to receive training.

Students and the college staff and faculty are publicizing the pantry through word-of-mouth and advertisements on campus TV, and an announcement will be published as part of the president's report that goes out to all student households.

Donations of nonperishable goods and other basic necessities/personal grooming items can be dropped off at the ECC campus Student Life office. Donations by check should be made out to the ECC Foundation but marked for food pantry use and mailed to 1700 Spartan Drive, Elgin, IL 60123.

The pantry's grand opening celebration will be held from 10 a.m. to noon Feb. 17 in Building B. Pantry operation hours for the semester are 10 a.m. to noon Mondays, 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesdays, and 5 to 7 p.m. Thursdays.

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