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Birdfeeder Food Pantry Helps Curb Student Hunger

As many as a third of college students nationwide don’t have enough money to meet essential needs, such as food. Dalton State’s students are no exception.

Aaliyah Montague-Bass was one of those students. She was working a part-time seasonal job and struggling to find the money for food.

Then she learned about the Birdfeeder, a food pantry on campus that’s open to all students. Students can visit the Birdfeeder once a week to pick up groceries and hygiene items.

“It has helped me a lot,” said Montague-Bass, a social work major. “I know a lot of people have food insecurity. It’s OK to come to the Birdfeeder for help. Don’t think, ‘I shouldn’t go because others have it worse.’ If you need help, the Birdfeeder is there for you.”

Since the beginning of the academic year in August 2017 more than 400 students have utilized the Birdfeeder. There have been more than 1,800 total visits to the food pantry during that time, as well, and nearly 11,000 items have been given to students in need.

According to a recent survey by researchers at Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, 36 percent of students surveyed do not get enough to eat.

“This is a national epidemic, and it’s also happening right here on our campus,” said Heather Williams, assistant director for leadership and civic engagement at Dalton State. “If students are going hungry, they’re not going to do well in class, and they’re less likely to be engaged in activities outside of the classroom.”

Monetary donations for the Birdfeeder are collected through the Dalton State Foundation. Being under the nonprofit allows the Birdfeeder to purchase food from the Chattanooga Area Food Bank at a reduced cost, and provides the donor the benefit of a tax deduction.

“What we’re finding out is students are maxing out their financial aid on classes and books,” Williams said. “But the financial picture of a college student has so many components. Many times parents can’t help them pay for necessities. Picking up just 10 items from the food pantry makes a huge difference. By providing this food to them, we’re giving them the support they need to maximize their time as students.”

The Birdfeeder started as a service for residential students only. It was expanded to all students when the Pope Student Center re-opened in the fall of 2017 after undergoing major renovations.

“The use of the pantry has grown tremendously since then,” Williams said. “I think sometimes students are afraid to use it. They need to know that we’re a supportive community, and encourage our students to use this resource.”

Montague-Bass was so thankful for the help the Birdfeeder has provided her, she wanted to find a way to give back. So she began volunteering and was hired on as manager of the food pantry.

Montague-Bass goes out of her way to make sure students using the food pantry feel comfortable and safe doing so.

“If a student doesn’t feel comfortable, I will shut the door for them so they can get their items in private,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable. I’ve used it, and I still use it. I just want students to come get the items they want and need. I try to make people feel as comfortable as I can.”

There are preliminary plans in place to begin a garden to supplement donations with fresh vegetables and fruits. Montague-Bass is working to find plots of land for a garden, as well as people who can help maintain one. She also has plans to share recipes with students to expose them to a variety of ideas for the food and to host cooking lessons for one-pot meals.

“Aaliyah is a great champion for what we do,” Williams said. “She’s helping push the food pantry forward in a positive way.”

The Birdfeeder is open to any currently enrolled Dalton State student with a Roadrunner ID card. The pantry receives no institutional funding, but donations can make a difference.

To donate to The Birdfeeder, visit www.giving.daltonstate.edu and designate your gift for Birdfeeder. Donations can also be set up as automated payments.