The tenacity of a 19-year BSU employee has resulted in the creation of a self-serve food bank – Food Bank 4 U – for students who are struggling with hunger and food insecurity.
It all started when Jane Doherty, staff associate in the Department of Chemical Sciences, began attending a luncheon series sponsored by Office of Institutional Diversity. Inspired by the topic “How to Feed the World,” she turned her thoughts to what inspires her most in her day-to-day work in BSU’s chemistry labs. The answer was right in front of her: students.
Soon after, she learned of a food bank at St. Basil’s Chapel and began contributing. During this time, she also read about a grant being offered by the Institute for Social Justice to fund staff-based initiatives and thought it would be a great opportunity to start a satellite food bank of St. Basil’s in a building that serves all students on campus.
Lacking an official space, a requisite of the grant, her first submittal was denied. But she persevered and after meeting with President Dana Mohler-Faria who approved the idea, she met with Dr. Jason Pina, vice president for Student Affairs; a contingent of his staff; and Karen Jason, of facilities management and planning.
As a result, Ms. Doherty was given space in the highly trafficked Rondileau Campus Center. With that commitment, she was able to establish and open the food bank in September. Central receiving and inventory management outfitted RCC 012 with used bookcases and the $1,000 grant was used to fill the shelves with non-perishable food items.
“I had an idea and I ran with it,” Ms. Doherty said.
In its first month in operation, without any fanfare, students accessed the food bank 59 times. That number almost doubled in just a month with 108 visits in October. Because the bank operates anonymously, students are requested to sign up by using initials or a mark to enable Ms. Doherty to gather statistics about its usage as she seeks to make Food Bank 4 U a permanent, student-run fixture on campus.
In several short months, the effort has had significant impact on the quality of life for students who don’t have the money for food after paying rent, utilities, auto maintenance, etc.
Ms. Doherty has been collecting their expressions of gratitude all semester long including a card written by a small child thanking her for the good meal just enjoyed – made possible with items collected by her mother from the food bank.
She has a note from a student that simply says, “mmm – homework fuel!” Ms. Doherty experienced a chance meeting with another student in the food bank who didn’t have any money but only took a jar of peanut butter and ate it all day long. Another note from a student said, “I only get a good meal because the food bank is here.”
“People here want to help our students and if you don’t quite know what to do, this is a good way – donate to the food bank,” Ms. Doherty said. With the initial grant virtually gone, she has been getting the word out to colleagues across the campus, taking all opportunities to spread the news such as participating in a Lunch and Learn at the Davis Alumni Center in early December.
She expects use of Food Bank 4 U will continue to increase as more students become aware of the service. She is also hoping to see a spike in donations to meet demand.
To bring attention to the effort and bolster contributions, four students in Eta Sigma Gamma, the national health education honorary – Chelsea Matrone, Antoinette Gagliard, Carla Oliveira and Simon Bloom – have been helping. Chelsea has been preparing green donation bins that have sprung up in every building on campus, as well as stocking goods and organizing shelving.
Meanwhile, all members of the group have decorated the food bank and bulletin board and have provided valuable information such as nutritious recipes and area contacts for the Women, Infants, and Children program.
“We have wonderful students here, Ms. Doherty said. “Why can’t we do what we can to help them? “According to Feed America, one in eight people in Massachusetts struggle with food insecurity. Our students work multiple jobs, have families, pay rising tuition and fees, commute, pay for rent, cars and gasoline.”
Donations of non-perishables in greatest demand at the food bank are: granola bars, canned chicken, Spam, black beans, cereal, oatmeal, beef stew, canned meat products, meat-based soups, canned salmon, rice, microwaveable meals in a bowl, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and almond milk. In addition to the collection bins on campus, food can be dropped off at the bank in RCC 012.
“In my mind, do I see this blossoming? Yes. I see students donating their unused points. Sodexho donating sandwiches …” Ms. Doherty said. “We have students who are hungry. We need to do what we can to feed them. We want our students to be intelligent and confident people.”
Food Bank 4 U is open Monday through Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 11 p.m. (Story by Eva T. Gaffney)