Oklahoma City Community College will have its first food pantry in order to address student hunger, its president said recently.
OCCC President Jerry Steward said the student dropout rate has less to do with academics and more to do with poverty. He said he heard a speaker at a Higher Learning Commission meeting talk at length about why students drop out. “For seventy five percent of the students that don’t complete their education at a community college (the dropout rate) has nothing to do with academics,” Steward said. “It has to do with poverty.”
He said he had a meeting last spring with 30 faculty members to discuss student success.
“I talked to the faculty members alone, there was no vice president, or dean. I said to them ‘I want faculty who are in the classroom with the students to tell me what we can do to bring up student success.’ I said ‘I’m not here to talk to you, I’m here to listen.'”
Steward said what dominated the conversation was ultimately hunger.
“The faculty told me, “you want to do something about student success at OCCC, do something about student hunger,” he said.
Steward said many students who attend OCCC had free or reduced meals in high school, so the transfer to a college without those benefits affects the students’ ability to learn throughout the day.
Working with Von Allen, head of the OCCC Foundation, Steward said a plan was developed almost a year ago to find a solution to the school’s hunger problem. A few months ago school officials decided to create a food pantry.
Dr. Shanna Padgham, a political science professor and a member of the President’s Advisory Council, applauded the decision to create a food pantry. Padgham said she and journalism professor M. Scott Carter also discussed ways to support a food pantry. M’Lou Smith, a sociology professor at OCCC, has been doing research on student hunger and homelessness and many other problems that plague students.
Smith shared her findings with Steward.
OCCC officials examined the food pantry at the University of Central Oklahoma for ideas.
Currently the UCO food pantry is available to all students, faculty and staff. The only thing a person needs to receive food is proof they are a current student or employee. UCO’s website explains how the food is distributed: “You choose the food you want to take home – much in the same was you would choose in a grocery store.”
The UCO food pantry partnered with the Regional Food Bank and takes food donations. Similarly, Padgham said anyone who is associated with OCCC could donate through the OCCC Foundation, which has posters around campus saying, “We Can.”
She said donations as small as $1 could equal five meals for a student.
Padgham said school officials are currently looking for a location for the food pantry. “They want to put it in a place that is appropriately discreet for students to be able to go collect food items they need without feeling like it’s an invasion of their privacy or they would be ashamed to go there,” she said.
Padgham said OCCC officials want a food pantry to be a positive resource for students so they can be more successful in college.
“The saddest thing to me is to say I have a student who has so much aptitude and intellect and the thing that might be holding them back is that they’re hungry,” she said.
NOTE: This story was updated with corrections and new information.