Aims Community College Goes “All In” to Fight Hunger
During the holiday season, and throughout the year, Aims Community College makes it a priority to support students and the community when it comes to food security. This month, Aims is providing a number of Thanksgiving meal kits to students who need them and Aims employees are volunteering at the Weld County Food Bank. These are just a few of the ever-expanding efforts the college has adopted in recent years.
Food Insecurity: a Growing Problem
When students are concerned about their next meal, it can lead to a lower GPA, poor mental health and limited social life. Food insecurity among community college students is a growing concern across the country. A recent report produced by the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin found that 29 percent of students reported food insecurity. Aims students experienced a slightly higher rate of limited or uncertain access to adequate food, at 33 percent, according to a college-wide survey.
“There is a high number of college students that are food insecure,” said Aims Hunger Free Campus Coordinator Patty Schulz. “They're choosing not to eat so that their kids can eat, or they're skipping meals because they can't afford to eat more than once a day. So, we started doing some research on how we could mitigate that. Aims is great at seeing something and jumping on it before it becomes a bigger problem.”
In the last five years, Aims began to focus on addressing student hunger in numerous ways. This includes everything from planning events such as cooking demonstrations and healthy meal preparation events to providing food to students at no cost. Efforts to provide food to students didn’t stop during the pandemic. Arty’s Pantry provided students with one $20 Walmart electronic gift card per week while the campus was closed to give some help. In 2020, Aims set up an online ordering system to allow for limited contact pick-up.
The most visible program is Arty's Pantry, an on-campus food and supply pantry. It provides any enrolled Aims student with groceries, personal hygiene products and school supplies, no questions asked. Items from Arty’s Pantry are available on the Greeley, Windsor, Fort Lupton and Loveland campuses. Since the opening of the pantry in March 2018, Arty’s Pantry has served 1,180 students. For the first ten months of 2022:
- 45,104 items were distributed to students
- 3,998 total visits
- 555 unique students served
"We want our students to be able to concentrate on their studies, plan for the semester, and not worry about how they will get their next meal," Schulz said. "Students have been receptive to this project and thankful that Aims has Arty's Pantry. Our work is to help feed student success."
Currently, six students work as Arty’s Pantry attendants. The employees help students sign up for the pantry, fill orders, stock shelves and shop for inventory. Student workers also track data, research programs, and partnership opportunities.
“The best part of my job is getting to help people.” Said Jeff Thatch, an Aims student who works at the pantry. “I've dealt with food insecurity in my own life, and I know how frightening and distressing it can be. The fact I can genuinely help people overcome that insecurity is very fulfilling.”
Due to nationwide inflation, the cost of food is rising for everyone. “Arty’s Pantry has resources to help students with these expenses,” Thatch said. We also have new shelves which allow us to keep more items in stock and offer more variety in what we carry. With our fridge and freezer, we can start offering more frozen proteins, dairy items, and things that have seen significant price jumps, like eggs and cheese.”
Expanding Hunger-Free Efforts
A partnership with the Weld Food Bank has enhanced the hunger-free efforts at Aims. This relationship allows the college to obtain food for the pantry at a significant discount through the food bank. An arrangement with the Weld Food Bank provided 2,850 pounds of food for special Thanksgiving meals for students at no cost to Arty’s Pantry.
This effort supplied 75 Thanksgiving meals to students who signed up. Meals include a frozen turkey (about 12-15 pounds each), a bag of potatoes, a bag of onions and a food box containing stuffing mix, cake mix, mac and cheese, corn muffin mix and canned veggies and fruit. “We are super excited to help feed our students and their families this Thanksgiving,” Schulz said.
Another program is the Weld Food Bank Farms To Families Food Truck which supports the Aims community. “I’m excited about expanding visits from the Farms To Families Food Truck,” Schulz said. The food truck visits locations across Weld County to provide healthy, fresh foods with a converted refrigerated beverage truck that can deliver fresh produce, dairy, meat, baked goods, and more. The food truck visits the Greeley, Windsor and Fort Lupton campuses monthly. The schedule of Weld Food Bank Farms To Families Food Truck visits is available on the Aims events page.
“Don't be afraid to use the resources available,” Schulz said. “A food pantry is just like using financial aid. If you need help, just ask.”
In addition to bringing free food to campus, the college is working in other ways. The Aims Hunger Free team helps students apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), that helps low-income households buy food. Many students are not enrolled because they need to be made aware that they qualify, do not know how to register or feel stigmatized when they use these services.
Another piece of the puzzle is financially supporting these on-campus efforts. Aims staff and faculty, community members and grants fund Arty's Pantry from donations and in-kind donations such as canned foods. Local organizations like the Weld Community Credit Union and Atmos Energy supported Aims food security efforts in 2022. In May, Atmos Energy donated $12,000 and reusable bags to Arty’s Pantry. The Weld Community Credit Union contributed $535.40 in cash and in-kind donations of non-perishable food and supplies. Local restaurants have also donated food; for example, Panera gave bread to the Pantry. Aims also received funding from the Colorado Food Pantry Assistance Grant Program, Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, The Weld Trust and United Way. To donate items to the pantry, email email@example.com. The Aims Foundation coordinates all financial donations for the college; the online form allows you to contribute to Arty’s Pantry.
This ethic of helping people goes beyond providing money and food. A number of Aims staff and faculty will take part in an annual “give back” to the community event at the Weld County Food Bank on November 18. Aims also provides in-kind support to make these programs possible. For example, for the Thanksgiving program, Dirk Smith at Aims Facilities and Operations loaded the food on pallets and smoothly got it to our campus. Christina Edwards, director of events, allowed Arty’s Pantry to store extra turkeys in the walk-in cooler in the catering kitchen in the Welcome Center. It is a team effort from the entire college, a community of care.
With all that is going on, Aims has been recognized for its efforts. In May 2022, the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE) recognized Aims as a Hunger-Free Campus. That doesn’t mean that the work is done; it only solidifies the work the college is doing. “The Hunger Free Campus designation doesn’t mean that we’ve reached the pinnacle of addressing food insecurity at the college,” said Aims Dean of Students Shannon McCasland. “It does mean that we are 100 percent committed and have focused efforts to fight hunger at Aims.”
This dedication to being hunger-free keeps expanding in the Aims community. Future plans include a Hunger-Free advisory council, a potential community garden, more special events and additional outreach programs.
To learn more about Arty's Pantry, visit aims.edu/departments/sail/artys-pantry.
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