For the past few years, Inver Hills Community College has been developing a food pantry for their students, and Thursday, August 26 marked their grand opening. According to Inver Hills Counselor Nicole Bietz, the college’s partnership with The Open Door was the inspiration behind this project. The Open Door’s Mobile Pantry has been coming to Inver Hills since 2013, and the significant impact it had on the college’s students motivated Nicole and her colleagues to bring food relief services directly to campus.
Inver Hills’ faculty and staff hope this project will give students more support, so students who need help don’t have to travel to multiple different places to get the resources they need.
“Inver Hills participated in some research studies about basic needs and security, and we found that there was a significant amount of our students who struggled with that,” Nicole said. “Our goal was to help bridge that gap.”
According to Nicole, one obstacle in bringing a food pantry to the Inver Hills campus has been the need to continuously reimagine the plan for the pantry’s model to keep up with students’ needs throughout the pandemic. After collecting information from the college’s students, the model has gone through several changes, such as moving to a self-service model instead of requiring appointments with counselors to pre-screen students before allowing an individual to access the pantry.
“Throughout this time, our students’ needs have continued to increase and so having a space with more availability seems like the next step, and it’s something that our students have been asking for,” Nicole said. “We love the Mobile Pantry, but it comes just one day a week, so if a student is not on campus when the pantry is here, then they aren’t able to use it. If we have a more permanent site, we’ll be able to have something available to more students.”
Nicole has been one of the main coordinators throughout the development of the pantry, and one of her goals over the next year is to extend the pantry’s services beyond food relief, and provide a wide range of resources, including information about affordable housing and mental health counseling.
The biggest challenge for Nicole has been meeting every student’s needs and ensuring that resources are accessible to everyone, no matter when they are able to come to campus.
The hard work Inver Hills staff have put into accessibility for their students has not gone unnoticed. Nicole’s favorite part of her work is hearing how her efforts have made an impact in someone’s life.
“I love when they write a thank you note or a message about the difference that it made for them,” Nicole said. “They’ll write about how this has been their only food for the week, and many of them have kids so I just know that it really makes a difference for them.”
Nicole hopes to continue spreading the word about the pantry to all Inver Hills students and ensure that everybody who needs help will have access to what they need.
“I’m thankful that we’ve had administrators that have been supporting and helping move the project along. It’s something we’ve been dreaming about at Inver for a while,” Nicole said.