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College Hunger is a Solvable Problem When We Work Together

April 2022
  • Student Brittany Richards and QCC President Luis G. Pedraja, Ph.D.
    Student Brittany Richards and QCC President Luis G. Pedraja, Ph.D.
  • Closing remarks from President Luis G. Pedraja, Ph.D.
    Closing remarks from President Luis G. Pedraja, Ph.D.
  • Senator Harriette L. Chandler and President Luis G. Pedraja, Ph.D.
    Senator Harriette L. Chandler and President Luis G. Pedraja, Ph.D.
  • Brittany Richards shaking hands with Congressman Jim McGovern
    Brittany Richards shaking hands with Congressman Jim McGovern

On Monday, April 11, members of the Massachusetts Hunger-Free Campus Coalition, including representatives from Quinsigamond Community College, met at Worcester State University for a conversation about hunger on college campuses.  

Guests included QCC President Luis G. Pedraja, Ph.D., State Senator Harriette L. Chandler and Congressman Jim McGovern, as well as a student panel that has been working to combat food insecurity in higher education. 

Dr. Pedraja spoke about QCC’s student population. “At QCC, 50% of our students have food insecurity. We serve 10,000 students who live and work and are the heart of this community and half of them, 5,000, come to school with some level of hunger and 11% of our students deal with homelessness. That is unacceptable. These are not statistics, these are people, these are our students,” he said. 

QCC pre-nursing student and president of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), Brittany Richards, was among the student panel and shared powerful testimony, saying,

“I bring a lot of my own experience with hunger and food insecurity. I’m very thankful to sit among these students here that have done a lot of work. I deal with my own mental health issues so it’s hard being a student, coming to class, making sure that my grades are where they’re supposed to be. Food is a necessity so even to have to have this panel, to ask for it, it puts a mental burden over us. It’s something that we are trying to fight for that we should have,” she said.

The student panel emphasized that this is a systemic issue that ties into racism, injustice, and inequality. They want to dispel the stigma and the myths that accompany this issue, such as the idea that students are lazy. Many students who are experiencing food insecurity work full-time, have an immigration status that prevents them from accessing resources, or have family to care for.  

“I’m an expecting parent and that’s something I think about a lot, the parents that are on campus. You don’t account for the fact that along with tuition, books, parking, and commuting, you are supporting a child or preparing to have a child. That’s something that’s really important,”  Ms. Richards noted.

Students experiencing hunger are affected both physically and mentally, which can lead to depression and decreased academic performance. The panel advocated for a holistic and collaborative approach to providing students with resources.  

Congressman McGovern encouraged more institutions to work together and think outside of the box.

“Collaboration is the key here. It’s not one answer, it’s not one thing. The stuff we’re talking about here today is solvable. More and more college campuses, including this one and Quinsig now have food pantries, to help make sure people have enough," he said.  

QCC’s HomePlate Food Pantry & Resource Center has been helping students fight food insecurity while also providing items such as diapers and hygiene products. In addition to donations, the food pantry receives food from the PTK Live & Learn Greenhouse.

“We have a student greenhouse as well, where we can grow some of our own vegetables and stuff that can be donated to the food pantry. It’s a good thing to have on campus,” said Ms. Richards. 

The event was also an opportunity to honor Senator Harriette Chandler who will be retiring from the Massachusetts State Senate this year. Worcester State University President Barry Maloney presented Chandler with a proclamation to commend her consistent championing of higher education issues such as securing $1 million in pandemic funds for higher education food insecurity and sponsoring an act that would create the Massachusetts Hunger-Free Campus Initiative. The initiative would work to understand and address food insecurity at higher education institutions.  

Speaking on the initiative, Senator Chandler said, “Our legislation has been released from the Higher Education committee and it’s one step closer to becoming law and I’m more optimistic than ever that it will happen. I hope it will happen and with our delegation behind it and all of you behind it.  Let’s get it done.” 

Senator Chandler also echoed the collaborative spirit of the day.

“We’re a delegation. We work together and no one person does it all. I came to talk about hunger today. It’s a solvable problem; you have to have the will. The people here, you have the will, and we must go forward,” she added

In his closing remarks, President Pedraja discussed his own background

"As a Cuban immigrant, I thought of America as the land of plenty, the land of opportunity. And to come and find there is hunger, there is homelessness, that is something that really struck my heart. It shocked me, it surprised me, and we can do better. We can do better as a country...we can do better as a community. We cannot rest until we can feed our students. It is solvable. We can do this if we stand together and work as a community,” he said

For more information visit QCC’s HomePlate Food Pantry & Resource Center