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Free food pantry for students opens up at MacArthur Center

It's called The Community Feed. It's a partnership between Tidewater Community College and the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore.

NORFOLK, Va. — A local community college teamed up with a local food bank to make sure no student goes home hungry.

Tidewater Community College (TCC) officials unveiled a mixed-used food pantry called “The Community Feed” at the MacArthur Center, right across from the Norfolk campus.

It isn’t your average food pantry. It’s a collaborative workspace offering a farmer’s market, meal kits, and grab-and-go lunch. 

And it's entirely free of charge for students.

It’s a collaboration between TCC and the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore.

College president Dr. Marcia Conston said hunger is a growing problem for a lot of families, and college students aren’t immune.

“We have a large percentage of our students who come to us with food insecurity,” Conston said. “Oftentimes, a meal that a student is able to receive at school is the only meal that individual will have throughout their entire day.”

She said when people are facing food insecurity, that can affect their ability to focus on school.

“Nothing to eat within a day impedes a student’s ability to perform academically or to even want to come to school," Conston said.

Foodbank President & CEO, Dr. Ruth Jones Nichols explained prior to the coronavirus pandemic, 37 percent of households were choosing between buying food or paying for education, and the need only continues to grow.

“Now because of the pandemic, we know that many more individuals included college students will have to make tough choices and choose between food and furthering their education,” Jones Nichols said.

Officials say they wanted a modern, welcoming space that would help de-stigmatize food pantries. TCC alumna and interior designer Leisa Arrington helped design the space.

“We wanted to take that stigma away from going to a food bank because sometimes people already have in their mind what it’s going to be like and for some, they’re maybe hesitant to go,” she said.

Right now, since the campus is closed, students can order meals kits online and pick up the ingredients to prepare food at home. They can pick up lunch when TCC opens again for classes. 

The Community Feed will also serve as a space to hold workshops on food insecurity. 

“Folks can come here and get meal kits for their families. Once classes are back in session on campus, individuals can come and get grab and go items from our pantry,” Jones Nichols said. “We’re not just giving people food, we are feeding dreams, feeding hope, feeding collaboration, and feeding transformation.” 

According to a press release sent out by Foodbank representatives, the overall vision of The Community Feed is to bring people together to connect over food and conversation.

There will be "workshops and learning sessions led by strategic community partners on topics related to root causes of food insecurity: lack of access to financial literacy, housing, employment, higher education and health care."

TowneBank donated $250,000 to help make the food pantry possible.

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