By Bob Fowler, Roane State staff writer
“Brain Food,” the name of Roane State Community College’s pantry for students at the Oak Ridge Branch Campus, has seen a big increase in students taking advantage of the free service.
A reduction in federal assistance that went into effect in late September is seen as one of the reasons for the uptick, an official said.
At the Oak Ridge campus, between nine and 11 students were helped by Brain Food each week during the Spring 2021 semester, while that number jumped to 18 to 20 students in the fall.
Last year, more than 120 students were served. After tallying the reported members of each student’s household, pantry staffers estimate that a total of 373 people received assistance in 2021. Mariella Akers, Oak Ridge faculty secretary and Brain Food volunteer, added that 120 of those household members were children.
The pantry opened in October 2019 and is located in the cafeteria in the Coffey/McNally Building. To date, 351 students in households totaling 1,143 persons have been helped.
“We’re so fortunate that Roane State has made a commitment to helping students overcome their food insecurity issues,” Roane State Dean of Students Lisa Steffensen said.
“It’s so important that all of our students know that the service is available for them, that it’s completely free and that there is no income verification or proof of residency to utilize any of our pantries,” Steffensen said. “The pantries can really help students stretch their grocery budgets.”
Brain Food is a partnership between Roane State, First Presbyterian Church of Oak Ridge, and Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee.
While classes are in session, the Oak Ridge pantry’s regular hours are Mondays from 10 a.m. until noon. That’s right after fresh food items are delivered by volunteers with the church. Food is donated through Kroger’s Zero Hunger Zero Waste sponsorship.
The 100 students who regularly benefit from Brain Food are sent emails shortly after fresh food arrives to notify them of what’s available, Akers said.
Brain Food always has canned and dry goods to offer. The pantry relies on donations for some items such as toiletries, including soap, shampoo, deodorant, and especially sanitary supplies.
Donations of food should be shelf-stable and individually packaged items are appreciated. Donated food that’s especially popular includes cold cereals, applesauce, and all kinds of energy bars. Nutrition drinks, almond milk, and sodas are well received, Akers said, and bottled water is extremely popular.
Brain Food is closed when the campus is closed. When the campus is open, donations can be brought to 701 Briarcliff Avenue and left at the front desk in the visitor’s lobby (just inside the entrance nearest the flagpole) of the Coffey/McNally Building.
Anyone interested in giving a monetary gift may visit the Roane State Foundation online at roanestate.edu/donate and select “Food Pantry Donations.” Monetary donations may be directed to all pantries or specific locations and can be made on behalf of an organization.
The Brain Food team can be reached at [email protected] or by calling (865) 481-2000. Gail Powers-Blanton, Oak Ridge operator, can assist in directing calls. Additional team members are available at the following extensions: Mariella Akers, extension 2007, and Sandy Vann, extension 4802.
There are also significant in-house pantries at the Roane and Cumberland County campuses. More information about Roane State’s food assistance programs can be found online at roanestate.edu/foodpantry.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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