MCCC food desert receives oasis; The Foundation develops food pantry

The food pantry at Eastern Michigan University functions through the efforts of EMU volunteers. Foundation trustee Annette Johnson was among one of the first to donate to the fund as she previously aided the development of the EMU food pantry (Photo courtesy of Eastern Michigan University).

MCCC is in a food desert.

The Monroe County Opportunity Program (MCOP) conducted a study that found that residents who live near MCCC have a hard time accessing healthy, affordable food.

Sixteen percent of students who attend MCCC reported “very low” food security in the 2021 study conducted by Trellis Research.

The Foundation at MCCC is creating a food pantry with the goal of eliminating the barrier of food insecurity, said Joshua Myers, executive director of The Foundation.

Traditionally, foundations help students by offering competitive scholarships before the school year begins.

However, The Foundation at MCCC aims to shift toward accommodating students who may have a changing financial situation, said Myers.

“Lots of students encounter unexpected situations,” said Myers. “Our goal is to help students push through those emergencies, so they don’t lose their academic progress.”

The idea for the food pantry came from discussions during the design meetings for the upcoming Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Center, said Jack Burns, director of Campus Planning and Facilities.

“There were quite a few comments about the needs for nutritional supplementation for our overall student population,” said Burns. “However, rather than take away from that space, both Josh and I felt like there was somewhere else in the building that could be dedicated to a food pantry.”

In December 2020, Myers met with Burns and Suzanne Wetzel, vice president of Administration, to discuss where the food pantry would be held.

While the food pantry is still in the early stages of the planning process, it is likely that it will be near the cafeteria in the storage closet that was used by Kosch Catering, the former food provider at the college, said Burns.

This position is beneficial because it is visible to students, close to a loading dock, and has an industrial cooler, Myers said. Also, it will require minimal construction.

The goal is for the food pantry to be completed by the upcoming Fall Semester, said Myers.

Right now, they are in the process of figuring out logistics, like what days the food pantry will be open and who will staff it.

Many decisions about the food pantry will be informed by community feedback.

Myers said he plans to reach out to campus faculty through governance councils, as well as surveying the student body.

“It’s really important for students to participate in these surveys,” Myers said. “Their input drives our decisions.”

Because students are frequently moving from class to class, the food pantry will be offering healthy, quick meals for students to choose from, said Myers.

Once the food pantry is established, they will explore options like incorporating the vegetables grown from MCCC’s vegetable garden during the harvesting season, Myers said.

The Foundation is partnering with MCOP, who already have a countywide food distribution network.

MCOP will work out the details of supplying the food for the pantry. MCOP will deliver on a monthly or a biweekly basis, depending on the volume of food that is needed, said Shawnterra Glasgow-Scott, MCOP associate director.

The MCOP is also advising The Foundation on best practices for storing and handling food, as well as filling out the proper paperwork to establish the food pantry, said Glasgow-Scott.

Because the food pantry is still in the early stages of planning, they don’t have a complete list of costs.

However, a minimum of $650 a month would be needed to provide food for 200-350 individuals, she said.

The money for this initiative is coming from The Foundation’s Eliminating Barriers Fund, said Myers.

He said how the pantry will function is dependent on the budget, which will be complete on July 1.

There is not yet an exact number for how much money will be allocated toward this project.

Foundation trustee Annette Johnson said she and her husband Dave were the first to donate to the food pantry fund.

Johnson and her husband were also involved in financially supporting the food pantry at Eastern Michigan University.

“My parents were first-generation children of immigrants from Hungary and Italy,” said Johnson. “Faith, family, hard work, community and food were important to them and no one ever left our home hungry. They instilled those values in me. Dave and I couldn’t imagine standing by when we could help feed students and their families.”

Johnson said a primary concern for everyone involved in creating the EMU food pantry was minimizing the stigma around food insecurity.

When publicizing the food pantry at EMU, they made sure to emphasize that seeking help was nothing to be ashamed of, Johnson said.

Glasgow-Scott said that always allowing clients to choose the food they wanted was the most dignified way to provide support.

She added that being open and warm toward clients and stressing they should take what they needed was another key way to reduce the stigma.

“We create a culture saying no one’s food insecurity should be judged based on how they look and what they have,” Glasgow-Scott said.

Tamara Courts, MCOP food programs manager, said confidentiality was important as well, especially in an environment where volunteers and clients may see each other in class.

“We all want to be sure students feel comfortable and safe,” Johnson said, “knowing there is no judgment, just a willingness to help them through a temporary need,”