IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - The College of Eastern Idaho now has a Falcon Food Pantry on campus to assist students who may be struggling with food insecurity. CEI has partnered with the Idaho Falls Community Food Basket to provide an in-house distribution center for CEI students.
“About two years ago, we did a survey of our students to determine need,” Julie McMurtrey, Senior Coordinator for the Center for New Directions at CEI said. “What we found was that the majority of our students did not have enough food to last through the month. We found that about one fourth of our students didn’t have the transportation or the means or the time, because they’re in school, to get to the Community Food Basket’s regular distribution site downtown.”
The Community Food Basket was running a mobile food pantry and would meet students on campus to distribute food. When the pandemic hit, the Community Food Basket lost a large number of volunteers and students were no longer learning on campus. In order to navigate these issues, the Center for New Directions (CND) decided the best option would be to open an on-site food pantry.
CND and the Student Life Department at CEI submitted a grant to their CEI Foundation for startup money to purchase necessary items to get the pantry up and running. That grant money also made it possible for staff members to purchase hygiene items such as toilet paper, baby wipes, diapers, toothbrushes, and shampoo to offer extra support to CEI students in need.
“It’s stocked, it is full,” McMurtrey said. “I would say we probably have enough to serve 100 families.”
Students and their families who may need a little extra support during any given month can also receive a larger distribution due to funding from the foundation.
“A lot of our students are working families and their kids are home from school more,” McMurtrey said. “As we all know, times are tight for a lot of people so this has just been a way to help bridge that gap to give parents who are also students some relief in knowing that they have enough food at home for their families. It’s just been a win-win for our student population.”
The Community Food Basket is currently providing most of the food items to the college and initially gave almost an entire pallet full of food to help get the pantry started.
“Our goal is to feed the people in need,” Bernadette Crain, Administrative Assistant with the Community Food Basket said. “You don’t really think of college students as having the hunger need, so it’s nice to just get into those little pockets where we can provide food for those in need. These guys have a great mission and we’re so excited to help them out and feed the hungry.”
The Falcon Food Pantry began with a soft launch last week to provide students with Thanksgiving food items for the holiday. The Turkey Box Program was cancelled because of the pandemic and the Community Food Basket wasn’t able to deliver their usual vouchers to CEI for students to participate in the program. Many students were lacking the means to provide a Thanksgiving meal for their families.
Ariel Jackson, director of the Community Food Basket, donated frozen turkeys to help students in need and CEI Foundation funding purchased potatoes and other items to create CEI’s own turkey boxes.
“We provided a dinner for about 30 students that wouldn’t have had Thanksgiving otherwise,” McMurtrey said.
Now, they offer grab-and-go type breakfast items for students who didn’t eat before starting their school day and might need that fuel to do well on their exams. They also offer nonperishable and meal staple items such as peanut butter, pasta, and canned fruits and vegetables.
“We’re really trying to fill a broad range of needs but number wise, we will serve anybody who comes through that door...our goal is to serve every student in need,” McMurtrey said.
In following the Community Food Basket distribution guidelines, the amount of food given to each student will be based on family size and each student will receive a variety of goods. Students can visit the pantry six times within a six month time period.
“I’ve had numerous students in my office through the years and when I’ve asked them, ‘Have you eaten today?’ the answer has been ‘no’,” McMurtrey said. “It’s been, ‘I ate yesterday’, ‘I ate the day before’, So it really highlighted the need that was there.”
Research shows our brains don’t function properly when our nutritional needs aren’t being met. In the short-term, missing meals can lead to brain fog and an inability to concentrate or recall information. McMurtrey says this leads to students not performing as well as they could on exams.
“The long-term effects are a lot broader, especially when we’re talking about families with young children,” McMurtrey said. “Their brains are developing and they’re learning and growing, so any sort of nutritional deficit or hunger is going to impede that. The long-term effects are going to be pretty extreme in that way.”
McMurtrey says this is why CEI is attempting to provide instant meals for students as well as their families at home.
“This is a really important initiative for the Falcon Food Pantry because there are employees and students at specific times of the year who are in great need of additional food and they can get food from the Community Food Basket, but this is a more convenient and maybe less awkward location for some of our students,” Mike Walker, Dean of Students at CEI said. “For those emergency times, we want to make sure that they have the means to be able to get food and we’re so grateful for our partner, the Community Food Basket, to be able to provide this opportunity.”