Kelly Felice, MSM, Assistant Professor
Brittany Pyle, BS
Metropolitan State College of Denver
Denver, Colorado, USA
An urban campus student food bank meets a serious need. Using donated food, the college and community collaborate to alleviate the issue of student hunger.
Metropolitan State College of Denver is an urban institution, positioned in the middle of Denver on 127 acres, which it shares with the Community College of Denver and the University of Colorado’s Denver campus. The current enrollment exceeds 21,500 students across a wide spectrum of backgrounds, with a median student age of 23. Nearly 80 percent of students work at least part time; 25 percent of the student body is of color. On this non-residential campus, students balance their course loads with jobs and families, often utilizing a mixture of Pell grants, loans and work-study positions. Despite the lowest per credit hour tuition rate among Colorado’s largest institutions, most Metro State students will draw some form of financial aid.
In the fall of 2007, a Student Government Assembly (SGA) leader, Kyle Haley, drafted a proposal to create the Metro State College of Denver Food Bank. Poverty and hunger issues go hand in hand with college students, and this age group is often overlooked or ineligible to receive many traditional human services like food assistance programs. The number of students enrolling at Metro State and receiving financial aid were increasing rapidly, and there were fewer students who could make it on their own or receive the kind of help to which many traditional, non-commuter students have access. The need became more evident as the population’s need increased in the downturn of the state’s economy.
While food is available on campus, it is the typical chain, food court variety, lacking in nutrition and high in cost. Facilities are not open to meet the needs of students when classes are held at nights and on weekends. Becoming aware that students were choosing to skip a meal in order to meet other college costs, Haley’s idea was to open a food bank on campus where students would receive free food every week to begin to alleviate issues of hunger on campus.
Metropolitan State College agreed to fund the creation of the Food Bank, under the supervision of the Office of Student Life. With continued help and funding from the SGA, the Food Bank opened in a small area in the Student Union. The organizing structure was different from other college food banks in an important respect: food supplies would be not be purchased by the college, but donated from outside sources, including food suppliers, college departments, faculty and other individuals. As a consequence, the two student coordinators and supervisors of the Food Bank learned to be fundraisers, special event coordinators and specialists in inventory control, while learning to meet the needs of a growing customer base.
The Metro State Food Bank (MSFB) is open 40 hours a week from the week before classes begin through finals week. Students must only specify their first name, email address, and major, and list the number of items received. Any student is eligible to receive six non-perishable food items per week with a valid Metro State ID. However, no student in need of food is turned away.
There is no standard profile for students who frequent the Food Bank; they are traditional and nontraditional, all races, all ages, and all majors. Creating a safety zone where anonymity is promised is an important component of the program and questions are never asked to validate anyone’s need. Some students will share stories of loss, worries about financial aid, and the decisions they make between food and paying other bills. There are students whose monthly package from home didn’t arrive, and others who get most of their food from the Food Bank. There are couples that come in every week and a few mother and daughter pairs, all grateful for the service the food bank provides. During the fall ‘08 semester, the Food Bank saw 443 visits with an average of 34 visits per week. In only the first two months of the spring ‘09 semester, there were 292 visitors, with an average of 63 visits per week. Both Metro State and its food bank are forecasted to continue this kind of growth.
To stock the shelves, the student coordinators arrange community partnerships both on campus and in the greater Denver community. There are food drives held once or twice a semester (depending on funding) to gain awareness and commence the battle of supply vs. demand. Many academic departments give on a regular basis, or provide a permanent collection box for food items. The college’s president offered a prize for donating the most food and the winning department contributed more than 200 items.
The coordinators also created partnerships with other food assistance and redistribution programs in the Denver community. MSFB has received donations from the 9Cares Colorado Shares distribution, done twice a year by 9News, the local ABC-TV affiliate. Last fall, Metro State received over 2,000 food items in 43 boxes. There are regular visits to Volunteers of America’s City Harvest, a 20-year-old organization that serves 20,000 people a year through redistribution to 85 organizations. A coordinator is able to pick up bread twice a week and one, 80-pound food box per month. A second box may be available depending on City Harvest’s supply. Metro State also has a partnership with the Food Bank of the Rockies, a 31-year-old organization that redistributes 25 million pounds of food to 700 agencies. There are also solicitations to major grocery chains done as often as possible. During the spring of 2009, the coordinator began to craft proposals to local foundations requesting monetary donations to purchase non-perishable fruit and produce which are unavailable from other sources.
Various offices absorb overhead costs; payroll is work-study funded, office supplies come from the Office of Student Life, and utilities-phone-rent are covered by the college administration. The Food Bank is covered under the charitable umbrella of the Metro State College Foundation, providing potential deductions for contributions its receives.
- Ensure a steady supply of food. With the current demand exceeding the supply for food, sometimes there is a choice of only four items, and students must look for another resource to sustain their food needs. The Food Bank needs to stabilize donations to ensure there is always food on the shelves.
- Provide nutritionally balanced supplies of food. Donations to food banks are unpredictable and it is difficult to anticipate the mix of items each week. Further, cash funding would enable the Food Bank to provide a healthier balance of stock, including items like non-perishable fruits and good fiber sources.
- Raise funds to sponsor more food drives. The spring ’09 drive was for pasta and protein items. Further funding would enable more frequent food drives and give more options for incentive-driven food. This is also a way to maintain contacts and sustain further campus donations.
- Establish an annual strategic plan and fundraising objectives.
- Create volunteer opportunities to involve human services/nonprofit students in this work.
In the long term, Food Bank coordinators hope to complete a manual promoting this model of student food bank operations to other urban institutions.
Kelly Felice, MSM, is Assistant Professor of Human Services at Metropolitan State College of Denver, and Director of its Center for Nonprofit Studies.
Brittany Pyle, BS, received her degree in Human Services in Spring 2009. She is a former coordinator of the Metro State Food Bank.