February 20, 2021 | Matt Kucinski

Soup cans stacked on a shelf of a food pantry
Photo credit: Calle Macarone

If you were to stop by Kieychia Likely or Jane Bruin’s office on Calvin’s campus, it wouldn’t be surprising to find a box of protein bars sitting next to their doors.

“Students know they can just pop in and grab something whether we were in our offices or not,” said Bruin, Calvin’s director of the Center for Intercultural Student Development (CISD).

Taking action

The two weren’t just providing a fun snack for students, they were addressing a real need seen on college campuses across the country today: food insecurity. While they were doing their part, the two soon figured out this problem was one that a couple of people could not solve on their own. So, about 18 months ago Likely, Bruin, and a team of Student Life staff got around a table and started to figure out a sustainable path forward.

Their planning had just begun when the pandemic hit. And with it, the problem was exacerbated. According to a new survey report by Chegg.org, nearly one third of all students who were surveyed at U.S. colleges and universities reported they had experienced food insecurity since the beginning of the pandemic. This represented a significant uptick.

“This was a problem that’s been present for quite some time, but the pandemic really threw fire on it,” said Likely, CISD’s assistant director of student engagement and thriving.

Whether it was an international student who couldn’t find work over the summer, a first-generation student who was trying to help their families pay for food during a tough economic time, or students whose parents experienced job loss or shifts in their financial security “it’s been an extra tight year for people, and they are trying to navigate that, figuring out how much they could save if they forego a meal here or there,” said Bruin.

Discovering community-wide support

With the support of Student Life, the alumni board, colleagues, and students, Bruin and Likely worked on finding long-term solutions. They opened up a food pantry during fall 2020 out of the CISD office. During a three-week period in December alone, the pantry served 250 students. They also partnered with Creative Dining on a Swipe Out Hunger Initiative, which allows faculty, staff, and students to donate meal card swipes they don’t use to a swipe bank that can be donated to students in need.

“If it was not for initiatives like this, students would be in the position of needing to skip a meal,” said Likely. “I’m seeing the community come along and say this is important and we are going to walk alongside one another and make this happen as one body.”

“It’s across the board a broad sense of gratefulness,” said Bruin. “Everyone that walks in to the food pantry is grateful. They feel seen. They feel the sense that ‘you got us, you know we are going through this.’”

Every action matters

What started as a box of protein bars in a couple of offices is now a pantry stocked with food and a community stocked with informed and invested community members looking out for the welfare of its students.

This initiative is campus-wide, open to any student dealing with food insecurity issues. Students who need assistance in this area and Calvin community members who want to donate meal swipes, food, or make a monetary gift to the cause, can contact Kiecyhia Likely at kcl7@calvin.edu. Online monetary donations can also be made at https://connect.calvin.edu/giving/give-to-calvin. Please select “Other” in the dropdown menu and enter “Food Insecurity Initiative” in the blank space provided.

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