August 2, 2023

Great Bay Community College is expanding its food pantry to help meet a dramatic increase in demand, thanks to recent grants that address food insecurity and support local farmers.

The Food Providers Network, supported by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, awarded $3,000 to Great Bay for food pantry supplies. The New Hampshire Food Bank granted Great Bay $500 to buy produce for the food pantry grown by local farmers. Great Bay is partnering with Barker’s Farm in Stratham to purchase vegetables, fruit, milk, and butter beginning in the fall.

The recent grants are in addition to up to $10,000 that Great Bay received from Hannaford Supermarkets, which awarded a total of $50,000 to community colleges across New Hampshire to upgrade and expand food pantries and purchase Hannaford gift cards for students.

More than 50% of community college students suffer from food insecurity, according to national data. This can inhibit learning and create challenges for students who lack access to regular meals. Great Bay has been focused on reducing food insecurity among its students for several years. The demand for food has doubled in recent years, said Brittanie Mulkigian, Director of Student Life, prompting the need for the food pantry to increase both in size and in the scope of its services.

“Our food pantry has been in a supply closet, but as the need grew so did our need to have more variety and volume of food,” Mulkigian said. “We are turning a conference room in our Student Success Center into the new food pantry. It will triple in size.”

The new space will include new shelving and a new refrigerator, and it will create a larger and more welcoming environment, said Julie Dockery, Community Resource and Student Wellbeing Coordinator. Eventually, Great Bay hopes to provide meal packs to students with full ingredients and other similar services.

“We have had students withdraw from classes because they had to work extra hours to buy food. If we can do something about that and help them out with food and so they don’t have to work so many extra hours, that is a win for everybody,” Dockery said.

The demand for the services of the food pantry increased during the pandemic, and that demand grown more acute lately with both a loss in federal pandemic-related benefits and an increase in the cost of food. “More and more students have a need now,” Dockery said. “We’re doing our best. We want students to be successful. But they can’t be successful if they are worried about feeding their children or are hungry themselves.”

From January to May 2023 of this year, 47 different students visited the food pantry 233 times. The food pantry provides food for the students and their family members, so during that same time frame, the food pantry served 133 individuals, for a total of 706 uses.

One of those students expressed gratitude to Great Bay for looking out for their wellbeing. “While being a full-time student and beginning a new career, it has become difficult to balance life with so much on my plate,” said the student, a cyber security major. “The benefit provided by Great Bay has been an enormous help financially and helps me not have to worry about breaking the bank at the grocery store. I am able to focus more on successfully finishing my classes as well as developing my new career.”

Traditionally, the food pantry has been supported by donations, including from a food-rescue program in partnership with ALDI Grocery Stores, Great Bay faculty, staff, and community members, as well as purchases and donations from the New Hampshire Food Bank.

As the need increased, Great Bay began seeking out grants and other resources to meet the demand. The grant from Hannaford enabled the physical expansion, while the grants from the Food Providers Network and New Hampshire Food Bank will allow Dockery to purchase equipment and food, including local produce, butter, cheese, yogurt “and the other things that are expensive for students, but that they need on a daily basis,” Mulkigian said, crediting Dockery for researching and securing the grants and helping Great Bay meet the challenge of the moment.

“With the work that Julie is doing, she is feeding our students’ success.”