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Joshua Gillespie, left, and MacKenzie Hillsburg, right.

This spring, Olivet College is proud to unveil a new resource available to students — Comet’s Cupboard. Located in the Student Success Center, Comet’s Cupboard is a food pantry open to all students with the goal of combatting food insecurity. Students who need or want food resources have access to free frozen meats, canned goods, snacks, drinks, nonperishable items and much more.

“The idea for Comet’s Cupboard was inspired when I was reading about barricades that impact students’ ability to be successful. One of the items was food insecurity,” said Joshua Gillespie, coordinator of student success initiatives. “In addition, a student had shared she did not have money to buy food and would at times be hungry on the weekends. We realize that food insecurity exists on every college campus. Some studies indicate that more than 48% of students report being food insecure across the country, other studies show less than 20% are food insecure. Regardless of the statistics, students, at times, go hungry.”

Sparked with an idea, Gillespie informally surveyed students to gather input on a supplemental food program on campus, and he immediately received strong support across campus, including from Dr. Amy Radford-Popp, dean of student engagement. In addition, recent graduate Alexandra Thurston focused part of her practicum studies on the Comet’s Cupboard initiative, and she helped begin the process of organizing the space. This semester, the Comet’s Cupboard Council was formed consisting of eight students advised by staff. Members of the council also volunteer to staff the cupboard and ensure the needs of students are being met.

First-year student MacKenzie Hillsburg is a member of the Comet’s Cupboard Council and eagerly got involved with the project.

“Growing up, I knew students in high school who had trouble getting food,” MacKenzie said. “They would go days without eating, and going to college, there are still students who experience that problem, whether they are commuters or living on campus. They are scared to ask for help, so we offer resources on a want or need basis. The process of creating Comet’s Cupboard has been a lot of fun. Joshua and I have enjoyed gathering the food and setting up the space. I like to know that I can help people when they need it or want it.”

Gillespie emphasized the importance of meeting students’ needs without the stigma associated with food pantries.

“Comet’s Cupboard is an amazing resource because it provides additional support for students who may need it or want it. The positive impact is that students can get one of their basic needs supported,” Gillespie said. “Being hungry has a negative effect on students, and this cupboard reduces that barrier without the stigma of it being offered just for those who are poor. That is why we emphasize it is for students who need or want it. We will also provide an opportunity for students to complete a short survey that inquires if they need any other resources, whether it be tutoring, wanting to join an organization, being homesick or needing someone to talk with.”

Gillespie noted that Larry Colvin, director of facilities, and the entire physical plant team have been instrumental in providing a functional space for Comet’s Cupboard, especially in supplying the freezers and refrigerators used to store perishable items.

Comet’s Cupboard is currently open to serve students each Wednesday, and the council is planning a grand opening ceremony on Wednesday, March 3 at 1:30 p.m.

“I am passionate about helping students succeed,” Gillespie emphasized. “My job is to help reduce barriers that impede a student’s success. Students being hungry is an unnoticeable impact that many students are embarrassed to admit. Research has clearly illustrated the need for institutions across the country to consider addressing what is becoming a more common phenomenon. We have a lot to learn, and we will grow as we serve.”

Learn more about Comet’s Cupboard by visiting the Student Success Center or contacting Joshua Gillespie at jgillespie@olivetcollege.edu or MacKenzie Hillsburg at mhillsburg@olivetcollege.edu. Volunteers are welcome! For more information about Olivet College, contact the Office of Admission at 269-749-7635 or admissions@olivetcollege.edu.

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