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FVCC food pantry a vital resource during pandemic

by MACKENZIE REISS
Daily Inter Lake | January 12, 2021 12:00 AM

Brittany Chandler was in the midst of her studies in Flathead Valley Community College’s medical assistant program when the pandemic struck and changed everything.

The working mother of three already had her hands full with work, education and a family, but soon found herself without a job when she was forced to leave her position at McDonald’s to help her children with remote learning.

“When [the pandemic] first hit, it really did a number to us, especially since I have all the kids in school and me in school,” Chandler said. “It's just so stressful that sometimes I just need a break. I broke down a couple times over it.”

The Chandlers also found themselves in quarantine on three separate occasions, compounding an already difficult situation. But there was one thing Chandler didn’t have to stress about quite as much — food. Through an email from the college, she learned about the FVCC Food Pantry, a campus-based resource that provides free food to students on a weekly basis and has served 153 students this year alone. Students, both part and full time, are eligible to use the food pantry. There is no financial metric needed to qualify, just a student ID card. During each visit, one student can take up to 15 food items or more if they are providing for other family members, along with select personal care accessories such as toothpaste and toilet paper.

“It really helped me to go in there once a week and get some food and make sure my family of five is good to go,” Chandler said. “It’s helped me tremendously. I get all different sorts of stuff from canned goods to stuff to make tacos.”

The pantry is nestled in a small room down a hallway in the Learning Resource Center, a location designed to give patrons privacy along with convenient access to food. Since the onset of the pandemic, the pantry began offering curbside pickup services, said pantry founder and student engagement coordinator Wendy Jeschke.

“The most exciting part for me is when I take groceries out to a student in their car and they are so thankful. It almost brings tears to my eyes,” Jeschke said.

She brought the idea to college executives after learning that food scarcity was an issue on campus. It wasn’t unusual for a student to remark how their car had broken down and that they were skimping on groceries to cover the repairs.

“The one thing they could skimp on was their grocery bill — that was the flexible thing,” she said. “It affects their learning and it affects their success … so this is an opportunity to provide that service and help retain our students. Whatever it takes to make them successful.”

The FVCC Food Pantry opened in January 2018 and has provided thousands of pounds of free food to local learners. This year Jeschke is seeing more family usage, meaning students are collecting food to support their entire families, not just themselves. This fall, 1,706 pounds of food have been distributed, up from 1,030 the year prior.

“We’re getting just as many visits, but the number of people we’re serving has gone way up,” Jeschke noted.

About half of the pantry users are coming in to shop for their items, while the other half are using the pantry’s online ordering system. Customers can simply fill out a Google form with their requests and Jeschke will pack up their box and arrange a pick-up time. Before COVID-19 hit, the pantry also placed baskets of snacks in math and writing labs which also included information about how to access the pantry.

“What we were seeing was a lot of students who were visiting the math lab, the writing lab. … those students were coming in and they were super hungry,” Jeschke said. “It always helps to give them some food so they can focus.”

While the snack baskets have been temporarily on hold, students who are just in need of a pick-me-up between classes can get snacks from the pantry in addition to food boxes.

Chandler encouraged other students in need of food to take advantage of this on-campus resource.

“They're willing to put their day aside and make sure that you have food for your family, that you're not going without,” she said. “If you need help they are there for you.”

The FVCC Food Pantry accepts in-kind and financial donations. Non-perishable food, personal hygiene products and grocery store gift cards can be dropped off in the blue donation boxes located near the Student Engagement Office in Blake Hall, Room 155 and the Learning Resource Center, Room 109. To make a monetary donation, please contact the FVCC Foundation Office at (406) 756-3963.

To use the FVCC Food Pantry:

Visit the FVCC Food Pantry online at https://www.fvcc.edu/campus-guide/student-life/student_engagement/student-wellness/food-pantry/ to fill out a request form or email food-pantry@fvcc.edu. The pantry is located in the Learning Resource Center on the FVCC campus.

Reporter Mackenzie Reiss may be reached at 758-4433 or mreiss@dailyinterlake.com

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Students can select five items from each of three categories including fruits and veggies, proteins and grains at the FVCC Student Food Pantry. Mackenzie Reiss