Grayson College Wants to Ensure Students Always Have Access to Food

The campus offers a student-choice pantry, snack boxes and drive through distributions.

Fruit, mac ‘n cheese and bags of chips don’t last long at Grayson College’s Food Pantry, but staff noticed that items requiring a little more preparation weren’t always moving as fast.

Billie Dawson, administrative assistant in the Counseling and Social Services department, decided to change that. She completed a food handler’s course so that she’d be certified to prepare and distribute food and she utilized space in the Denison campus’ pantry to make snacks and meals for students to enjoy.

Now on select days, students can not only pick up non-perishable items, fruits and packaged snacks but also a handmade plate of beef nachos, a sweet potato with toppings or hot rice.

“We’re planning to make lentil soup this fall,” says Barbara Malone, Director of Counseling and Social Services who oversees Grayson College’s Food Pantry. “We try our best to show students how they can use stuff that the (North Texas Food Bank) sends.”

The pantry is one of 15 higher education pantries in NTFB’s Partner Network that works to ensure college students have access to food and can focus on their classes rather than worrying about where their next meal will come from.

It’s estimated that more than 30 percent of undergraduate and graduate students nationwide face hunger at some point in their higher education career. At Grayson College, Barbara said a survey they conducted following the pandemic showed that more than 40 percent of students on their campus were food insecure.

“It kind of gave us an awakening that, ‘Wow, our students really need a food pantry,’” she says.

The pantry first opened in 2019 in partnership with St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Grayson’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter started a Canstruction competition that year to help collect cans for the church’s pantry, and then worked with the church to ensure there was always food available on campus for students facing hunger.

When students went home to learn online in 2020 due to COVID-19, Barbara took over the work and connected any student in need with St. Luke’s pantry. After students and faculty came back to campus, however, Barbara realized that the need had grown beyond the school and church’s current capabilities.

She partnered first with Catholic Charities to host mobile distributions on campus and after that became a partner of the North Texas Food Bank. NTFB now hosts a monthly mobile pantry distribution for students and supplies food and snacks for its pantry, which is set up in a former coffee shop on campus.

The pantry falls under the college’s Grayson Cares program, which also offers eligible students assistance in applying for SNAP, access to two fuel gift cards per school year, veterans’ services and counseling, among other support.

In the pantry, baskets are set out with breakfast and lunch items that students can grab and take on the go. There’s also a door leading to the pantry where individuals can take shopping bags and pick up what they need just like they would at a grocery store.

Barbara says students who use the pantry vary in age and degree program, from young adults living on campus to moms who are finishing the nursing program and bringing food home for their families. With many of the medical programs, like nursing, required clinical hours can make it tough to work and go to school, Barbara says. Having food available at the pantry allows them to put the money they’re saving on food toward another necessary bill.

Through Grayson Cares, Barbara and her team have also placed five newspaper stand-style metal boxes in five buildings around campus that are stocked with free snacks. Barbara says they know not everyone is able to make it into the physical pantry and these boxes help to fill some of their needs.

“Students tell us, ‘I don’t know how I would have made it without (the pantry),’” Barbara says, adding that during the spring semester they distributed a record 2,561 pounds of food to nearly 1,600 students. “The need is greater now than it was during COVID. I can’t imagine us not having this food.”

Kathleen Petty is communications manager for the North Texas Food Bank.