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Impact - ECC student rolls out mobile food pantry

Tags: Student Resources
Published 12/06/2021
ECC Student Maria Perez and the new Mobile Spartan Pantry Cart

ECC Student Maria Perez and the new Mobile Spartan Pantry Cart

This year, the fight to prevent food insecurity is taking a new direction with Elgin Community College student and Phi Theta Kappa member Maria Perez.

The pantry began in 2014 when ECC’s Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Honor Society recognized that 28 percent of ECC students were economically disadvantaged and many of their peers were facing food insecurity. PTK members made it their mission to seek a solution and created the Spartan Pantry to provide food and basic necessities to any student in need. Since its inception, the pantry expanded its space, added refrigeration, partnered with Advocate Sherman Hospital’s Community Garden to provide fresh produce, and provided gift cards to students when forced to temporarily shut down during the pandemic. Since then, the Spartan Pantry has had more than 11,000 visits.

Now, Perez is working to grow the pantry's reach. In addition to making sure students are aware of how the pantry supports their needs, she is now bringing it to them. For her PTK College Project, Perez chose to focus on the theme of food insecurity. "I was excited about this theme because I am just really passionate about helping others," said Perez.

Perez began by loading up a cart with canned goods, snacks, breakfast food, and water. After walking the entire school three times around, up and down, she noted that nearly half of the students she approached were not aware of the Spartan Pantry, but expressed need. "Utilizing the food cart not only helps serve students, but it also lets them know the pantry is always available," said Perez.

The food cart led Perez to her next idea to increase access to food and pantry resources and address the insecurity and stigma around asking for help. Inspired by the Little Free Libraries movement, Perez created "Little Spartan Pantries," which can be seen around campus with self-serve food items inside, along with room to leave donations.

"With Little Spartan Pantries, we are helping fight the stigma and making sure students know about the resources available to them no matter what side of the school they are on or the level of their needs," said Perez.

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