Wear, Fort Calhoun, said that in addition to attending Northeast where she majors in audio recording, she works as a Resident Assistant (RA) at the College’s residence halls and also holds an off-campus part-time job. In fact, she’s been working since her freshman year of high school and pays many of her own bills. But last spring, she found herself so short on money she couldn’t afford to eat.
That’s when she approached Tim Young, HELP grant success coach at Northeast, who, at the time, had a small food pantry for students in his office.
“Working up the courage to go see Tim and take food was nerve wracking,” Wear said. “I remember avoiding eye contact with him and apologizing. I think the first thing that comes to students’ minds is that there’s always someone worse off. There’s someone else who really needs it.”
A survey conducted at Northeast by Young in 2017 reveals that Wear’s situation is not unique. Over 100 students and 50 staff members were presented questions regarding student food insecurity, which Young said can be defined as “limited access to food, inability to get food or the lack of eating sufficiently throughout the day.” The survey showed that 52-percent of the students surveyed were aware of another student who was food insecure, and approximately 30-percent of the students said they themselves had to skip meals because they did not have adequate funds for or access to food.
Young said that student food insecurity can take many forms and affects students from many backgrounds, from non-traditional students with children to traditional students who live in the residence halls.
“If a student says they are struggling to pay their bills, they are in need. If a student is skipping meals, they are in need. If a student has basically nothing, they are in need. If a student has to decide to pay their car loan instead of buying groceries that week, they are in need. If they are an international student with limited transportation or assistance, they are in need.”
This fall, the small pantry Young started in his office was renamed the Northeast Pantry and moved to Simon Hall, a residence hall. Young trained the resident assistants (RAs) and student assistants (SAs), including Wear, to help students who say they are in need. He also established an accountability system in which RAs and SAs log student IDs of those who use the pantry and also record what they take, who referred them and why they need assistance. The pantry currently relies on donations, including non-perishable food and personal hygiene items, from Northeast faculty and staff.
“We’re going to have to do our jobs to find those students who need it,” Wear said. “As long as we do our jobs and get to know people, and find those who need those resources, we can help. And for me, it’s not just that I’m telling students we have this. I’ve actually lived it.”
Since the start of the school year, the Northeast Pantry has been used 31 times. Approximately 900 items have been donated, and students have taken approximately 250 items.
In addition, Northeast’s Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), Tau Chi chapter has selected the Northeast Pantry as its service project for the 2018-19 school year. The international academic honor society will be hosting a food drive on Tuesday, November 20, when the Northeast men’s and women’s basketball teams take on Southeast Community College, beginning at 5 p.m. at the Cox Activities Center on the Norfolk campus.
Young said he anticipates the need for the Northeast Pantry to extend well into the future.
“From Skylar’s situation to more drastic cases, the need for food is going to be constant. There are many colleges across the country that have pantries for this reason. It increases (students’) access to food, and it increases their classroom success by keeping them fed, nourished and awake.”
“And feeling heard,” Wear added. “Knowing you have somewhere to go, that you have a backup. I will still work hard and try to make as much money as possible so I can buy my own food, but I know that if something happens to me, I will have a fallback if everything else goes wrong. It’s comforting for me to think about, and I know that as more people use this, and now that we can talk about it more, others can have the same comfort.”
Northeast Community College student Skylar Wear, Fort Calhoun, helps add food to the Northeast Pantry located inside Simon Hall on the Norfolk campus recently. Wear is the many students who have utilized the resource since it moved to Simon Hall over the summer.