One locale to help students with basic living insecurities

By Brian Tom

Edmonds College students can visit the school’s food pantry, apply for small grants to cover unexpected emergencies and seek temporary housing available in the community — all in one building.

The Washington college opened the Triton Student Resource Hub in its Olympic Building in January 2020. Billed as a “one-stop center for help when you need it,” the two-story building aims to mitigate stigmas and offer a safe and welcoming environment.

The campus’ food pantry occupies the ground floor, where students can get free groceries, toiletries, diapers and more. Above the food pantry are the offices for emergency grant coordinators, Vivian Dang and Sam Johnson. Etmon Carranza, a “2-1-1/coordinated entry community resource advocate,” shares the upper floor with Dang and Johnson and plays a crucial role in connecting not only students but also local community members with essential support systems such as utility assistance, food, housing, health, childcare, after-school programs, eldercare, crisis intervention and more.

Before the hub opened, students had to submit multiple applications and visit several locations around campus to use the food pantry and receive help paying for daily necessities. Now, they can visit one location and fill out one application that covers several grants.

“We opened the Triton Student Resource Hub knowing many students struggle to feed themselves or their families, and financial emergencies arise that must be met for them to remain focused on academics,” said Edmonds College President Amit B. Singh. “The hub has positively impacted the lives of those it has served and helped mitigate some of the challenges that recipients face daily.”

Edmond’s efforts were recently recognized as a best practice by the U.S. Education Department.

Gauging the need

The food pantry is typically open three times a week. All indications are that it is making a big difference in combating campus food insecurity. As of June 2023, 2,795 unique visitors accounted for 18,894 total visits to the food pantry since it opened at the hub in 2020. From July 2022 to June 2023, almost 27 tons of food was distributed to students by the food pantry, including dairy and meat products that are delivered weekly by a local food bank.

The college’s support extends beyond the boundaries of the Triton Resource Hub. The Onward Learning Program is busy addressing housing insecurities among Edmonds’ student population through a partnership with Edmonds College Housing and Snohomish County nonprofits Cocoon House and Housing Hope. Edmonds focuses on providing free campus housing for up to 20 students who have aged out of the foster care system and are working to stabilize their lives and build their futures. Edmonds Housing filled all 20 spots for students in fall 2023 and 19 during the 2024 winter quarter.

“If one student remains enrolled because of the resources we provide, it is a win,” said Singh, who serves on the board with Housing Hope. “Our programs are more far-reaching, impacting a larger portion of students and helping them overcome barriers, but there is still more work to do to serve everyone who needs assistance.”

A low-barrier process

As student resource navigators, Dang and Johnson filter through the emergency request applications quickly and distribute aid to requesters efficiently. They are the first line of defense on campus in providing emergency funds, and they refer students to Carranza to assist with additional community funding and resources. Together, they work in concert to access community resources to ensure that as many Edmonds students as possible can receive aid to continue their education undisrupted.

Edmonds also is the only college in Washington with a 2-1-1 resource advocate on campus. Volunteers of America Western Washington supervises the 2-1-1 coordinator, and Verdant, a health commission that serves South Snohomish County by administering grants to improve health and well-being in the community, funds the position. In addition, Dennis Gibbs, an outreach specialist supporting the college’s Veterans Resource Center, works in the hub once a week.

“The 2-1-1 advocate is well connected to Snohomish County social service agencies, the coordinated entry system for homelessness support, and other off-campus services,” explained Thompson. “So it is helpful to have them right next to us.”

Overall, Dang and Johnson fulfill as many requests for financial assistance as possible until the grant funds are exhausted. Emergency assistance is provided through several grants, including the Washington State Student Emergency Assistance Grant, Supporting Students Experiencing Homelessness and WorkFirst support programs, Edmonds College Foundation Emergency Grant, City of Edmonds College Rescue Grant, and funds from Puget Sound Area Transit Authority.

Since the hub’s opening, Edmonds student emergency assistance programs have distributed more than 1,000 awards totaling nearly $600,000. If a student needs assistance, they will find the funding source that best fits their situation.

“For the emergency grant, it doesn’t matter how much you make. The only requirement is to be a student at Edmonds College. All you do is apply. We trust the student and don’t require specific documentation,” Dang said. “We make the process as low barrier as possible.”

Making emergency funds more accessible has had a profound impact on students. One recipient provided the following feedback: “I have a family of five, and our income is not low, but we still live paycheck to paycheck. The majority of the time, I do not qualify for anything, and without hesitation, this grant helped me pay for childcare, food, gas and housing without limitations or delays.”

There’s more to the story! Read the full article in CC Daily.

Brian Tom

is a public relations and copywriting specialist at Edmonds College in Washington.