Karen O'Hare-Charles and Jose Lopez-Figueroa, Director of CAS, stand in front of the food lockers.

A new way to tackle food insecurity

By Jim Danko

Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) has made access to food and groceries easier for students by giving them the opportunity to pick up goods in temperature-controlled lockers on campus.

The Massachusetts college’s Center for Access Services (CAS), which provides a broad range of support including food, has used a grant to install 16 insulated lockers. The CAS staff can place an order made through the Ram Mini Mart food pantry into an outside locker. Students get an access barcode on their phones allowing them to pick up the food when they want – even if it’s outside of regular business hours.

The grocery lockers are designed to be convenient for STCC students. Some of them work during the day or have classes in the evening. They can place online orders and pick up food in the evening or on weekends if they choose, said Jose Lopez-Figueroa, CAS director. STCC students can create an account online by visiting the CAS webpage.

“Investing in the hunger-free campus is investing in the local economy,” Lopez-Figueroa said. “Education directly impacts a vibrant, productive workforce to support a strong economy. Whether with certifications, licenses, or degrees, you need an educated workforce, and you can’t get an education on an empty stomach.”

Lopez-Figueroa said the expanded access to the food pantry offers not only flexibility but confidentiality. Some students are reluctant to come to the CAS office and pick up food in person.

One STCC student, who was the very first to pick up food from a locker at STCC in January, said, “The lockers were quick, easy and convenient. I was surprised by how quick and easy it was to pick up the groceries from the lockers. Very user friendly.”

Some lockers are designed to keep food frozen; others are set to ambient or room temperature. Students enrolled at STCC can place orders after registering through CAS website.

“We see the Mini Mart as a free convenience store for our students,” Lopez-Figueroa said. “The food lockers and online shopping really give it that feel.”

STCC offers healthy options for students through the Ram Mini Mart. Students also can purchase produce using SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) funds from Springfield’s Go Fresh Mobile Market on campus each Thursday.

Karen O’Hare-Charles, Food Pantry manager, is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition.

“I’m mindful of trying to encourage students to choose more fruits and vegetables and healthier options that are lower in sugar and sodium when making those selections,” O’Hare-Charles said.

STCC receives funding from Stop & Shop to help fill the Ram Mini Mart. The college also is a member of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, which allows access to thousands of pounds of food almost entirely for free.

The Mini Mart is stocked with food and household items, including hygiene products. CAS also accepts donations from the community.

A grant through the Hunger-Free Campus Initiative pilot made possible with the Department of Higher Education’s use of American Rescue Plan Act funds has allowed STCC to tackle food insecurity with technology, enhanced access and increased services.

“We want to make sure all students have the support and resources needed to be successful at STCC,” said Darcey Kemp, vice president of student affairs at STCC. “Jose and his team have done a wonderful job combating issues like food insecurity that are impacting our students. The food lockers provide greater access and convenience for our students.”

This article was originally posted here.

Jim Danko

is the assistant director of communications at Springfield Technical Community College in Springfield, Massachusetts.