Benefits Access Center Prevents WCC Students From Going Hungry

B’Cehe Keno presents some of the bounty from community garden. (Photo: Amanda M. Gordon)

Life is tough for community college students. Some juggle a full class load, a full-time job, and a semi-healthy social life. Some do it on an empty stomach.

This year, a study was published by the Hope Lab, a laboratory that studies the issues that college students face, found that as much as 67 percent of community college students are food insecure.

Although it’s unbelievable that average college students may face overwhelming forces that prevent them from completing their degree, it’s true. One obstacle for students is food insecurity.

Food insecurity, defined by the United States Department of Agriculture is “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.”

Located on the third floor of the Student Center, the Benefits Access Center (BAC), is aware of this issue and is prepared to ensure that the students of WCC do not face such a reality by providing a food pantry open to students who face food insecurity.

Everyday WCC’s food pantry is open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to students who are in need of support. Non-perishable foods such as canned beans, pasta, peanut butter and cereals can be picked up at the food pantry.

On Mondays, the pantry also offers herbs and vegetables that are harvested from the garden. The harvest season is expected to end in November.

According to WCC’s website, the food pantry has been in service since late 2014.

In 2015, WCC became the first college in the county to partner with the Westchester Food Bank.

“Everybody needs something sometimes,” said B’Cehe Keno, who is helping the BAC on a work study program. Keno also mentioned that the food pantry sees a few regulars.

“A lot of times the food pantry is a way, for me, to see the people who are having issues,” said Debra Santora, who manages the BAC. It is common that if a student is facing one difficulty, there could be other obstacles in the way.

“It’s sort of like a gateway into the department,”  Santora said. In addition to the food pantry, the BAC also offers assistance for students who need legal services, health insurance, childcare, housing, and counseling.

The BAC is also starting up a new club to combat hunger among WCC students called “We Dine Together.” The club would meet in the cafeteria on Wednesdays during common hour offering lunch and peer-to-peer support. The program would combine healthy eating habits, as well as emotional and financial support.

Programs run by the center could not continue without the support from grants, and volunteer groups like Helping Hands and individuals who contribute donations.

The community garden on campus is a shared project of the school and Volunteer New York, an organization of volunteers that aims to improve the quality of life within the community.

Wendy Armstrong, the manager of the Hunger Relief Corps, has been overseeing the garden’s production with the school and a group of volunteers. She contributes the success of the garden to Jacqui Bergonzi.

“She’s our master gardener,” said Armstrong. “She picked out all of the plants for the garden.”

Armstrong gave mention that any students interested in volunteering at the garden are welcome to join by registering on their website through Seeds for Service.

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