Addressing hunger at Bunker Hill CC
Not just feeding a need to learn
Microphilanthropy is an occasional feature that calls attention to small acts of generosity that people do for the benefit of others and highlights little-known needs that could benefit from generosity, even on a small scale.
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF the student body at Bunker Hill Community College in Charlestown are not surprising for a large urban institution with more than 14,000 enrollees. More than two-thirds are students of color, 57 percent are women, and a significant number are foreign-born, representing 107 home countries. Many come from lower socio-economic backgrounds and are the first generation to attend college. The average age is 27 and a majority work full or part-time.
Massachusetts and other states have created such institutions as portals to higher education and as potential vehicles for social mobility serving exactly the population where such opportunities are rare. The faculty and administration at Bunker Hill understand and adjust to the challenges facing their students. Low costs, flexible schedules, and job-oriented programs are aimed at the needs of this population. Part of the college’s mission is to find ways to help non-traditional students adapt and to stay in school long enough to graduate. Nearly 70 percent of the student body survives on income well below federal poverty guidelines, a fact that presents unusual problems on a college campus. One such problem is hunger.
Teachers and others at Bunker Hill observed that some students simply do not have enough to eat. The students are working hard to improve their lives but they start with few resources and live day to day. The need to juggle school, housing, work, children, and transportation sometimes leaves too little money to feed themselves adequately. Some 825 students at Bunker Hill received food stamps in 2015. Even so, there are gaps in eligibility and periods when the money runs out; there are no “school lunch” programs at the college level, so any response to the problem is thus far informal and reliant on the generosity of others.
A second informal effort, funded mostly by one friend of the college who was stunned by the problem, allows the Single Stop office to give students a $25 food card redeemable at Stop & Shop. Eighty cards a month are distributed. One student applied for a food card saying that she “cannot afford the food for my mom’s renal diet and have enough for me as well.”
Because there are not enough cards or food distributions, the office keeps peanut butter and jelly for students who want to make a sandwich. Staples such as pasta, rice, and beans are also available. Panera donates approximately 20 loaves of bread a day.Bunker Hill administrators hope eventually to have a more comprehensive program to address the problem of hunger on campus. They estimate that it would cost $1 million a year to provide each needy student with one meal a day. Such a formal, fully funded program is a hope and a dream. For now, there is only the occasional food pantry, a limited number of Stop & Shop cards, and peanut butter and jelly. There is not enough of any of it and the need to ease hunger among the poorest students at Bunker Hill creates an opportunity to give.
Tax deductible donations can be made online at www.bhcc.mass.edu/foundation/oppotunitiesforgiving/ or via the mail to Bunker Hill Community College Foundation, 250 New Rutherford Ave., Boston, MA 02129 with a notation of “Food Support.”