SIFE Food Pantry

SIFE food pantry at JCCC

It’s hard to concentrate when you’re hungry.

But for some Johnson County Community College students, it’s a fact of life. Buying books or filling the car with gas to get to class may come at the cost of three square meals a day.

That’s one of the factors that led the college’s Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) chapter to establish a food pantry in the business division’s main office in the Office and Classroom Building.

The food pantry got its start in November 2011 when SIFE students participated in the Campbell’s Soup Company’s “Let’s Can Hunger” challenge. The corporation challenged SIFE groups across the nation and in Canada and Mexico to raise awareness of hunger, translate that awareness to action in the form of hunger relief and empower those in need to defeat the cycle of hunger.

“We were going to collect the food and give it to other food pantries,” said Stacey Allison, project manager for SIFE who was part of last year’s effort and continues to be involved this year. “But then staff asked us about keeping the food on campus. We learned there was a real need.”

That’s not surprising. United Community Services, a Johnson County agency that monitors human services needs, reported in September that U.S. Census Bureau figures for 2010 showed that 6.6 percent of the Johnson County population had incomes at or below the poverty level. Though Johnson County’s poverty rate was steady from a year earlier, the agency said the rate rose to 12.7 percent for the six-county Kansas City metropolitan area.

With an area wide growth in poverty, the SIFE students found that the JCCC pantry could serve a niche of need.

In all, SIFE collected 6,000 pounds of nonperishable food items and earned a Silver Spoon Award for their efforts in 2010-2011.

This year, the group hopes to continue the effort. Barbara Millard, SIFE advisor and associate professor, entrepreneurship, said she expects that SIFE students will work with other student groups both to gather food for the pantry and to raise awareness of its existence.

Millard said protein items – tuna, peanut butter and chunky soups, for example – are in short supply. Personal care and baby items, like diapers, also are welcome.

Students can stop by the food pantry in OCB 272 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to pick up the food they need. Typically, around 10 people stop by each week, but Allison and Millard would like to see that number grow.

Allison noted that local food pantries are running low on food as the economy continues to falter, and she said she wants to get the word out about the food available onsite at JCCC.

Her involvement with the food pantry has left her feeling fulfilled.

“We’re helping them survive so they can finish school,” she said. “When you face the choice of eating or buying books, that’s really difficult.”