Elliot Walker, Elena Oliveri and Angafa Watson (from left) are among those volunteering this semester at the food pantry on the Hampton campus.
When a notice went out recently to Thomas Nelson students asking for volunteers for its food pantries, Doreen Dougherty wasn’t sure what to expect. Dougherty of the College's Student Services office was pleasantly surprised.
“Thirty-two students have written me back to volunteer for the fall,” she said a few weeks ago. “It’s amazing to have so many students all of a sudden volunteer.”
Dougherty has two explanations for the great response.
“For the first time, we used Navigate,” she said, noting that is how Dr. Betsy Harrison, dean of Student Services, reached out to all students. “We had not done that before.”
Another reason, and Dougherty saw this again and again in student emails to her, was many just wanted to help, some because it was a way to give back.
“A lot of students had written that they had been helped in the past by food services or social services, and saw that and it just inspired them to contact us and offer to volunteer,” Dougherty said. “I was quite surprised.”
One such student is Tianna Antonitis. Several years ago, when she first attended community college in Texas, she took advantage of its food pantry.
“It’s so important. It’s such a vital resource to college students,” she said.
At the time, Antonitis, who originally is from Canada (Alberta), was going through a hard time in her life. She was divorced and a single mother.
“I had to get an education,” she said. “I could work for minimum wage, but I can’t support my daughter and myself.”
She recalls having to make choices between paying a bill, eating or putting clothes on her daughter’s back.
“Utilizing the food pantry that I found out about at my previous school, it made a world of difference,” she said. “I could put food in my belly. I didn’t have to worry about my daughter, and having to feed her.”
When she saw the message about volunteer opportunities, she knew she had to respond.
“The moment there was an opportunity for me to give back, I knew the food pantry was where I wanted to do it,” she said. “When I saw this email, it was wrapped up as a gift for me.”
For student Angafa Watson, he’s volunteering because he loves helping people.
“It’s good to help people who may not have resources to get fresh food items from the store,” he said.
For students who volunteer at least 15 hours in a semester on campus, they will receive $100 off next semester’s tuition.
“We hope that they (volunteers) enjoy it and do more than the 15 hours,” Dougherty said. “A lot of students do.”
The hours for the food pantry at the Hampton campus are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday and Thursday. There are no designated hours for the food pantry at the Historic Triangle campus, but students can access it through the Student Services office.
During the pandemic, the College offered drive-up food pantries at the Hampton campus. Before the pandemic, up to 600 people were served some months, said Dougherty. That number includes family members, not just the students who picked up the food. Dougherty is hoping more students will take advantage of the expanded hours.
When Antonitis was at college in Texas, she wasn’t initially aware of the food panty.
“I had no idea those things existed,” she said. “I thought it was always a community thing and you have to qualify for it.”
However, that is not the case. There are no forms to fill out, and students don’t have to provide any identification. They just need to show up. And it’s private, which Antonitis said is important because often there’s a stigma attached to those who need help, which is unfortunate.
“Your pride’s getting hit,” she said. “So to have a private one on campus is just, it’s amazing.”
Having a food pantry also is a great asset to the College, but the volunteers are just as important, said Antonitis.
“Without volunteers, you can’t run a food pantry,” she said. “And there are people like me that they need it.”
She noted it can be important even if people aren’t in dire need of food.
“The more that students support the food pantry, the more the food pantry can support students,” she said.