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Chemeketa’s Food Pantry provides help for the hungry

According to a national study conducted by the University of Wisconsin, one in three community college students struggle with food insecurity.

Grecia Garcia Perez, who coordinates the Chemeketa Food Pantry, wants those students to know there is a place they can go for help.

Every month more than 40,000 people, including 14,000 kids, access emergency food services through the Marion-Polk Food Share program. While the MPFS relies heavily on donations, they have programs installed to provide a reoccurring stream of fresh food to pantries across the county. The Youth Farm here on campus is one of those programs, ran in partnership with Chemeketa and Oregon State University Extension.

Photo by Diana Inch

The Youth Farm on campus grows over 50 varieties of fruits and vegetables, and all products are grown organically. In addition to the abundant supply of fresh foods, the farm has provided a much needed boost to the local ecosystem, everything from insects to field mice, and even an osprey.

While the food grown at the Youth Farm is not disbursed solely to the Food Pantry on campus, it remains an important source for fresh fruits and vegetables because food drives and donations are normally non-perishable foods.

Chemeketa’s Food Pantry is nestled away in the corner of Bldg. 2, Rm. 176. It is very easy to miss. However, it is a valuable resource that many students in need may not be aware of. The food pantry is open to everyone in the community, not just Chemeketa students.

“We just feel that we cannot really turn people away if they are hungry. For me, that would be really hard to do,” said Garcia Perez.

The Food Pantry carries a wide variety of food items. Everything from typical shelf staples such as ramen, cereal, pasta, and rice, to fresh fruits and vegetables. However, with only one shipment of food per week, the inventory goes quickly. Garcia Perez receives a weekly supply from the Marion-Polk County Food Share.

“We receive about 300 to 600 pounds per week of fresh fruits, vegetables, and bread. They go super quick. As of right now, I only have about 20 pounds of fresh tomatoes left from the four hundred pounds that we picked up yesterday. That just shows how much of a need there is,” said Garcia Perez.

In addition to fresh food, the pantry also offers personal hygiene supplies such as deodorant, shampoo, soaps and detergents. In a testament to the caring values of those who run the food pantry, they recognize the need to support those members of the family who may become neglected in a food shortage. “A lot of our students may have a pet companion or a service dog, so we also have dog food and cat food because if you are hungry and you also have a service animal, maybe the animal is also hungry,” Garcia Perez said.

Garcia Perez acknowledges that there is a stigma around using food pantries.

An assortment of non-perishables at the Chemeketa Food Pantry.

“Even people that they might look up to might’ve struggled in their life with hunger. I myself did that. I remember. We’ve all been there. I think sharing that personal story is important to break that taboo because one out of three students, one of your friends, has struggled with this. So if we’re more open about having conversations about financial instability and what that means when you’re a student especially, I think we can break some of those taboos,” said Garcia Perez.

Last year the food pantry helped 4,135 people. Most of those were students, however that number includes 436 children as well. That equates to 344 people per month. Despite these numbers, Garcia-Perez believes there are still more students who may be in need.

“National statistics show that one out of three community college students are actually food insecure. And I am pretty sure we’re not reaching every student who’s hungry here at Chemeketa,” said Garcia Perez.

With the pantry always in need of more supplies to meet the ever growing demand, students at Chemeketa have the opportunity to make a lasting impact. Garcia Perez is always in need of volunteers.

“I go and pick up hundreds of pounds [of food], sometimes I do it by myself so it’s helpful to have someone to help me carry boxes. If they want to volunteer with us, they can help us do a fundraiser,” said Garcia Perez.

Students who may not have extra free time to volunteer can still support the program in other ways.

“We have donations going around all year. Staff put on events for donations and we have food barrels so different clubs instead of asking for money, they can ask for a donation of some kind for the food pantry. We also have penny drives as well to collect funds for the pantry,” said Garcia Perez.

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