Friday, October 19, 2012

Durham Tech Campus Harvest

Last year, as we began planning an MLK Day of Service on campus, the Durham Tech Student Senate kept turning to me with one question: What are we going to do to help students? Most colleges use their observances of MLK Day to perform service out in the community, but while the students were eager to serve, it was evident that need existed right here on campus. Some of my most dedicated volunteers in my first term of service as a VISTA believed in giving back because they, too, had experienced poverty, homelessness, and hunger, all while working towards improving their lives through education. After much discussion with the planning committee, we settled on a plan of assembling emergency food relief bags and distributing them to students on a first come, first served basis. Students managed to assemble 50 bags with staples such as beans, rice, pasta, oatmeal, and tuna - nothing glamorous, but enough to feed an individual 3 meals a day for a week.

In planning the event, we knew that the bags would go quickly, but we didn't anticipate the size of the response. Our supplies were depleted within 30 minutes, and many more students arrived in the next half-hour to ask if we still had food. After the event, students would occasionally show up to my contact tables asking when the next food distribution would be. It became clear that, although this had been planned as a one-time event, the need on our campus was constant. We began to explore methods of responding in a more permanent, ongoing way to the food insecurity at our school. Through research into programs at other schools and developing relationships with community partners, we have devised a three-pronged approach.

Harvest Tuesday

Volunteers expand the DT Campus Harvest Plot
The Briggs Avenue Community Garden has been an official community partner of Durham Tech since our 50th Anniversary Year of Service. We have worked with them on volunteer workdays and helped them recruit plot owners for the garden.  During the summer 2012, the garden received a grant from Nourishing NC to plant an orchard. As a condition of this grant, they were required to donate a percentage of their produce to hunger relief programs in the area. After bringing our needs on campus to their attention, together we devised a plan to dedicate a new plot in the garden to Durham Tech students, who would grow and harvest produce for their peers in need.

In order to distribute the produce, we turned to Guilford Technical Community College for a model. Guilford Tech has operated a food pantry on its campus since 2008. An on-campus community garden supplies produce for the pantry through Harvest Tuesday. Produce is distributed on a first come, first served basis in the afternoon after a harvest in the morning because they do not have refrigeration to store the produce. Because we already have scheduled garden workdays on Tuesdays and also lack storage, we decided to call our program Harvest Tuesday as well. Since August 21, our program has distributed approximately 125 pounds of produce. We have experienced quite high demand. Although we have been able to serve 61 students to date, many have been turned away as produce supplies are typically exhausted within 20 minutes.

Produce at Harvest Tuesday 

 Veggie Van

Realizing that we could only meet a fraction of the demand for fresh produce on our campus, we sought out the Community Nutrition Partnership (CNP), which was looking to expand their Veggie Van services into Durham. Their program began in Chapel Hill and brings low-cost produce to communities with limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables. It operates much like a CSA, but at a significantly reduced cost. They also accept EBT cards. Each week at their distribution sites, volunteers provide cooking demonstrations, food samples, recipes, and nutrition information on items in the box. CNP is currently conducting feasibility surveys, and they hope to begin distributing produce boxes on campus by mid-November.

 Durham Tech Campus Harvest Food Pantry

SOTA food collection display at Fall Fest

With the grand opening scheduled for MLK Day in 2013, we have begun the work of collecting non-perishable food items for the Durham Tech Campus Harvest Food Pantry. While we are currently working on developing policies for distribution, we anticipate allowing students to visit the pantry weekly and giving them choice in the items they receive through use of a shopping voucher model. Our first major food drive for the pantry took place this week at our annual Fall Fest. The Student Senate sponsored a club competition, awarding prizes to the clubs that brought in the most items by weight. The drive was an incredible success, collecting approximately 860 pounds of food! Once we sort the items that were collected and assess needs for specific items, we will be placing bins around campus to collect food on an ongoing basis.