April 19, 2022

Partnership will serve students who experience food insecurity while also providing affordable options at new Gather Café at Great Bay

Photo courtesy of GBCC: (left to right) Heather Cash (Gather), Brittanie Mulkigian (GBCC), Tina Favara (GBCC), Tania Marino (Gather), Deb Anthony (Gather), Dr. Cheryl Lesser (GBCC), Seneca Bernard (Gather) and Tom Andruskevich (GBCC).

PORTSMOUTH – Great Bay Community College (GBCC) and Gather, a Portsmouth-based food pantry, have been working together since early 2019 to reduce food insecurity among students. GBCC and Gather are now poised to expand their partnership to create even more support for students. Beginning this Spring, Gather will provide additional donated meals to food insecure students along with affordable, convenient, healthy food options at the new campus-based kitchen and café. The Gather Café at Great Bay is expected to open in May for students, faculty and staff and be fully operational for the GBCC community at the beginning of the fall semester.

These new efforts – which come at a time where the increased cost of food has created additional challenges on personal budgets – will positively impact students’ ability to achieve academic success and ultimately to graduate.

The alignment between the two non-profit entities, GBCC and Gather, the area’s largest hunger relief organization, is an innovative way to provide assistance to the greater Seacoast-area community.

“Having lost our previous food services vendor during the pandemic, Great Bay Community College’s commercial kitchen and dining area were not being utilized,” said Tina Favara, vice president of student success and enrollment management at GBCC. “At the same time, we heard that Gather was looking for a new kitchen to expand their programming to better serve the community in reducing food insecurity. This became the perfect time to grow our partnership to fill current needs for both organizations. We are very excited to develop a long-term partnership with Gather and are very grateful for their investment in the GBCC community by helping us with long-term food options on campus.”

According to numerous national studies, more than 50% of community college students suffer from food insecurity. This drastically inhibits learning and creates significant challenges regarding persistence for many students who lack access to regular meals. GBCC has been working to reduce food insecurity among its students for the past four years, and expanding its partnership with Gather will ensure these needs are met for years to come.

“GBCC is dedicated to meeting our students’ basic needs as well as working to remove barriers so they can focus on their academic success,” Favara said.

GBCC and Gather have been working together on combating food insecurity since 2019 when they opened the Campus Cupboard, a grab-and-go food pantry that provides healthy, sustainable snacks and personal hygiene products to “feed student success” while on campus. In January of 2021, during the height of the pandemic when the campus was closed and classes were online, the two organizations created a weekly curbside food pickup service for students. That winter and spring, they distributed thousands of pounds of food that included supplemental groceries such as milk, bread, eggs, dry goods and fresh produce.

“It is Gather’s mission to end hunger in the greater Seacoast region, and when we have willing partners, like Great Bay Community College, who want to help in that mission, we make it a priority partner with them and help in any way we can,” said Seneca Bernard, associate executive director at Gather, which serves 5,000 members each month. “The opportunity to open The Gather Café at Great Bay will even more directly assist an often-underserved population of students who are attending GBCC to better themselves, and our community, by entering the workforce. Students of any age need fuel to do their best thinking, and Gather is excited to be able to offer the café as an option that will have fresh, nutritious, and delicious food available for them.”

Gather distributes two million pounds of food each year through its local food programs. The expanded partnership will provide Gather with the use of GBCC’s 1,000 square foot commercial-grade kitchen to support their Cooking4Community Program, a food repurposing project that prepares 600 meals per week for the Seacoast community. Ten percent of the meals prepared by the Cooking4Community program will go directly to GBCC students.

There has been a rise in the level of food insecurity from the pandemic along with an increase in the cost of food and gasoline, and research shows the importance of consuming quality food in supporting increased academic focus, persistence, and success. According to Feeding America, Rockingham Country, where GBCC and Gather are located, has a 6.8% food insecurity rate with over 20,000 people in need.

“I am extremely grateful for the services Great Bay provides to students,” said Phil Reid, a Cyber Security major. “While being a full-time student and beginning a new career, it has become difficult to balance life with so much on my plate. The benefit provided by Great Bay and Gather 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.”

Great Bay Community College is a comprehensive postsecondary institution offering quality academic,  professional and technical education in support of workforce development and lifelong learning. Great Bay Community College is part of the Community College System of New Hampshire, a public system of higher education consisting of seven colleges in Berlin, Claremont, Laconia, Concord, Manchester, Nashua, and Portsmouth. The colleges offer Associate degrees and career training in technical, professional and general fields, including transfer pathways to baccalaureate degrees. For more information on Great Bay Community College, visit www.greatbay.edu.

For 200 years, Gather has been serving Seacoast residents facing hunger. The agency was founded in 1816 by a small group of women committed to feeding the families of fishermen. Today, Gather is committed to ending local hunger by providing nutritious food through innovative distribution programs, nutrition education and recipes for healthy living and collaborating with community partners to address the root causes of hunger throughout the Seacoast in N.H. and Maine. Gather’s focus on streamlined internal systems, processes and controls ensures that every dollar donated has a big impact on hunger. 90¢ of every dollar donated to Gather goes directly toward local hunger relief. For more information, visit www.gathernh.org.