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‘We have a real desire to take care of each other’: GRCC selected for national program that tackles food insecurity

Grand Rapids Community College was among the 27 colleges selected for the national Hope4College program that tackles food and housing insecurity on college campuses.
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Posted at 8:06 PM, Sep 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-17 20:08:50-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Before Natalie Alvarado left campus on Friday at Grand Rapids Community College, she stopped by the student food pantry and picked up some canned foods, frozen foods, hygiene products and diapers for her toddler son.

“I think it’s very important that the school provides this for us and the cost,” said Alvarado, an honor student studying business. “For a week or two it helps out a lot.”

Alvarado said it makes a big difference for her because there’s only one person currently working in her four-person household. So, the food pantry offers everything they need.

“We have fresh produce. We have frozen meats and frozen fruit,” said Lina Blair, GRCC’s director of student life and conduct. “We’ve got butter, eggs, milk, cheese, pantry items, canned goods, diapers, baby formula, wipes, hygiene items and all kinds of other stuff.”

They even have dog food too.

Blair said the pantry was created 10 years ago and they gave away 200 bags a year. However, when the pandemic hit back in March 2020, they expanded the pantry and have given away over 2,000 bags since then.

“When you put yourself in a student's shoes and they can’t focus on their classes because their stomach's growling or they have a hard time showing up to class because they just slept outside for the night; we have a real desire on campus to take care of each other and take care of our students and help them be successful,” Blair said. “If you can’t have your basic needs met, then it makes all the rest of it a lot harder.”

RELATED: Several organizations team up to fight food insecurity in Michigan

Blair said over the last four years, they’ve done three studies, with the most recent one being in November of last year. They learned that 35 percent of their students are food insecure at any given time.

“About 46 percent of our students are housing insecure at any given time,” Blair said. “At least 11 percent of our students have slept outside at least two nights in the last 30 days. So, they’re truly homeless.”

Blair added that The Hope Center for College, Community and Justice helped them with the studies. They also recently selected GRCC, and 26 other colleges from across the country, to partake in the Hope4College program, which focuses on coming up with solutions to food and housing insecurity for college students.

“When the opportunity came up to team up with other colleges and universities to help figure out how colleges on a national level can be more responsive to students' basic needs and securities, we jumped at the chance to do it,” Blair said. “So, I’m so proud that we were selected for it and really excited to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

Blair said the group will come up with ways to make an impact on local, state and national policies. In the meantime, she hopes many students will take advantage of the food pantry.

Alvarado agreed.

She said she understands that some people may feel embarrassed about seeking help. However, she encourages students to push past the stigma and take whatever they need.

“I mean, it’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Alvarado said. “I think it’s a blessing that I think you should take advantage of. I mean, it’s here. That’s what it’s here for. So, take advantage.”

READ MORE: GRCC receives $1.2M grant to help adult learners

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