Clark College Penguin Pantry helps students in need

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter



Penguin Pantry

The Penguin Pantry, in Science 101 on the east side of campus, is open on the following days and hours:

11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday, Thursday and Friday.

2 to 5 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday.

You Can Help

 The food pantry accepts donations of nonperishable food, gift cards and toiletries. Donations can be dropped off at the Penguin Pantry during operating hours, or at the Office of the Vice-President of Student Affairs in Gaiser Hall, Room 204.

In a quiet corner of the Clark College campus, in a repurposed classroom where students once nourished their minds, they now go to fill their bellies.

The Penguin Pantry, Clark College’s food pantry, opened this summer, with a celebration late last month. There, students can select canned and boxed foods, bread and packaged snacks. Another set of shelves are lined with toiletries — mini bottles of shampoo, toothpaste and soap. Occasionally, fresh fruit and vegetables are in the refrigerator, baby food on the shelves and school supplies in jars.

Last week, Natalie M. Shank, project manager for the pantry, and Nova Gump, an interim program assistant who works there, tidied up the room, cleaning recently donated cans and discussing what is needed to carry students through the long holiday break.

More than half of Clark College students are low income and receive Pell grants, according to a report Shank produced. More experience food insecurity for other reasons, meaning they struggle to access or afford food.

“We definitely have some students who are experiencing homelessness,” Shank said, or who are leading single-parent households.

Organizers of the Penguin Pantry hope to ease those needs with easily accessible food and other necessities. So far, 140 students have visited, taking at least 1,500 items.

Armetta Burney, director of workforce education services, sits on the Penguin Pantry’s board. She described the project as part of Clark College’s efforts to support students in their educational and personal needs.

“We know if you’re hungry, you can’t really be successful in class,” Burney said. “If we’re able to help a student with that very basic need while they’re on campus, we feel like we’re supporting them in their retention and completion.”

At Washington State University’s Vancouver campus, the Cougar Pantry recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. That pantry started in much the same way as the Penguin Pantry did, serving 147 students and their families in its first school year. Last year, though, that number expanded to 770 families. This month, the university distributed 60 Thanksgiving meals with all the fixings to students.

Cougar Center Supervisor Kafiat Beckley said students over the years have become more comfortable coming to the food pantry. WSU Vancouver’s demographics are similar to Clark’s, with more than half of students receiving Pell grants.

“Students are very appreciative of being able to have this service,” she said. “They say if I can shave a few dollars off my grocery bill, I can focus on things I need for school. I can use that money toward housing.”

In the service’s first months, it’s taken trial and error to determine what students want, said Gump. Things like boxed macaroni and cheese and packaged snacks fly from the shelves, while a donation of kale was slower to go. Overall the response has been “really positive,” with students beginning to spend time studying at tables in the space.

And that’s the goal, she and Shank said — to create a comfortable, welcoming space as the college works to improve and expand its Penguin Pantry.

“Students are really happy we’re here,” Gump said. “There are students that are pretty desperate for this help.”