More than 100 students stopped by Greenville Technical College’s Caring Corner last fall and spring for food and basic needs.
Caring Corner, which acts similar to a food pantry for students and staff at the school, sits in the back of the college’s Engineering Technology building and takes up the space of a small classroom. Lining its shelves are canned green beans, soup, diapers, and baby food, among an array of basic food and hygiene products.
Crystal Pitrois, department head of Academic Connections, said the intent is to be a stop-gap solution for students in need.
“Students come in for a variety of reasons — ‘I get paid Wednesday, I’m a little short on cash, and I need food,'” Pitrois said.
The Caring Corner is staffed during the school year by AmeriCorps workers, who help anyone who visits apply for benefits ranging from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to Medicaid. AmeriCorps is a service program within the United States that functions similar to the Peace Corps.
“Some of them just need to use [Caring Corner] every once in a while — some of them are in emergency financial crisis situations where they need housing, where they need resources,” Pitrois said.
Laurie Pufpaff, a nursing teacher at the school who died of cancer in 2016, established a fund with the Greenville Tech Foundation to help the pantry. The Caring Corner has a plaque in the room dedicated to her.
“She was an incredible person,” Pitrois said. “Particularly in the nursing program, students have to cut back their work hours — if they work at all — because they have to do clinicals. So she just saw a need for setting up a fund to help sustain the pantry before she passed away.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, introduced a bill in the House of Representatives in June called the Food for Thought Act that would give grants to community colleges to fund meal programs for students, such as programs like Caring Corner.
A statement from Schiff’s office cited a study by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice that reported about 45% of the nearly 86,000 college students surveyed experience varying degrees of food insecurity.
“Hunger can force students to make difficult decisions that affect their academic success, such as missing classes or dropping out of school to work more,” the statement said.
The bill would set aside $6 million for the program, with qualifying colleges receiving a maximum of $200,000.
Pitrois said Caring Corner is a continuation of Greenville Tech’s goal to help the community it serves.
“We realize that we’re here for the community. Our goal is always [being] a community college, which means that we provide a skilled workforce,” Pitrois said. “But we also see on the other end our role in breaking the legacy of poverty.”