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CMC Rifle Campus opens new food pantry

The Eagle's Nest Food Pantry is located near the lobby of the Colorado Mountain College Rifle Campus.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Since Colorado Mountain College’s Rifle campus opened a new food pantry Aug. 25, Brandy Clancy decided to list off personal expenditures from the top of her head:

• Monthly costs caring for two children: $200

• Monthly rent supported by the Department of Housing and Urban Development: $100



• Monthly household bills: $200

• Tuition for a two-class semester at Colorado Mountain College, Rifle campus, also subsidized: $700. (Full-time tuition is nearly double that.)



Clancy, whose eldest daughter is 15, is a former spa worker and restaurant server who made ends meet on commission and tips. Now unemployed but studying wildlife biology, she tries to pay for what she can using a monthly $400 stipend from the Colorado Department of Human Services.

Any disruption to this financial assistance or even her food stamps and she’s living out of her car, Clancy said.

“There’s times I’ve gone without eating,” she admitted. “But my kids? Never.”

Gilbert Gonzalez, 49, is also a student attending CMC in Rifle. He’s a disabled U.S. Navy veteran and a former San Antonio-area postal worker of 18 years. Fed up with the politics at work, however, he said he resigned, and spent the next chapter of his life traveling the country.

By the time he moved to Garfield County more than six years ago to be closer to his son, Gonzalez found himself living in a camper in Silt. He gets by on an $1,100 monthly pension from the U.S. Navy, he said.

“Living up here in this area is kind of rough for anybody just moving in because the cost of living is pretty high,” Gonzalez said. “And the majority of the work that’s available that pays well, is very strenuous work.”

Besides being nontraditional CMC Rifle students, Gonzalez and Clancy share another common bond: They both agree the new food pantry on campus is going to help more than just fighting hunger.

“I think it’s going to help more so in the ‘behind the doors’ kind of way,” Gonzalez said. “It’s the best thing we can implement so the students will be aware of it, so students can tell their moms and dads, brothers and sisters — people who are not students there — so that they may come without considering whether they’re going to be judged or not.”

RECIPE FOR SUCCESS

Food insecurity is a reality for many college students, one CMC administrator said. Circumstances worsen, however, when it’s more than just them burning the midnight oil on nothing but microwavable gruel.

“Our college students struggle financially, and for most of them, they’re not just supporting themselves — they’re supporting their families while they’re trying to better their education,” CMC Academic Advisor and Disabilities Services Coordinator Jenny Boone said. “It’s not just the students living on Ramen noodles; it’s the whole family that needs nutritional food.”

Gilbert Gonzalez puts food items on the shelves at the Eagle's Nest Food Pantry at the Colorado Mountain College Rifle Campus.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

According to a 2016 Hunger on Campus Report, 25% of community college students in the U.S. reported experiencing very low food security. Though refined data specifically highlighting food insecurity levels among CMC Rifle students is unavailable, there is data showing the number of local school district students eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Many of those students go on to attend CMC Rifle.

Data from the Colorado Department of Education shows that of Rifle High School’s 757 students from the 2020-21 school year, 272 were eligible for reduced lunch, while another 33 were eligible for free lunch. Of Coal Ridge High School’s 552 students, meanwhile, 153 were eligible for reduced lunch and another 27 were eligible for free lunch.

Over at Grand Valley High School, nearly 50% of the student body was eligible for free or reduced lunch. Of the school’s 303 students logged for the 2020-21 school year, 128 were eligible for reduced lunch and another 31 were eligible for free lunch.

CMC Vice President and Campus Dean Tinker Duclo said food insecurity among college students even prompted the Colorado Department of Higher Education to push for hunger-free campuses.

“Even people that have housing and other things taken care of, when they get to the end of their paycheck, after they’ve paid rent — after they paid for their cars and other things — there just may not be enough money left for food,” she said. “They may not be in abject poverty and homeless, but when it comes to those last dollars, they may not get spent on food.”

“And we do have a number of students that have children.”

Which is why CMC officials joined up two years ago with the student affairs department and campus leadership to start a pantry. LIFT-UP, a nonprofit organization that provides humanitarian assistance across the Colorado and Roaring Fork valleys, also joined the effort.

“We are going to be able to support them, and we’re committed to providing their pantry with nutritious and cultured foods to meet the students’ needs,” LIFT-UP Director of Operations Scott Shirley said. “We’re excited to partner with (CMC) because it’s another location for food to be given out.”

But there’s more to just satisfying hunger. When COVID-19 hit, Boone said some students have had to drop their education for a short time. Because their income dropped some students were forced to work more hours and take fewer classes.

“Most of our students work, and that income supports their family. That’s an important piece about why the students in our community colleges are the ones that are most likely to be the ones that make every penny count each month,” Boone said. “That’s why having a food pantry helps relieve a little bit of the pressure on them.”

BON APPETIT

Hallways were abuzz with students scrambling to get their classes last week at CMC Rifle. Amid the bustling activity symbolizing school’s back in session, students encountered a new addition to campus: the Eagle’s Nest Food Pantry.

After a food pantry at the CMC campus in Eagle, Rifle now houses the only other food pantry of all CMC campuses across Colorado. And lining shelves, a multitude of assorted favorites specially requested by CMC students through data gleaned from college administrators.

Gilbert Gonzalez puts together grab-n-go bags at the Eagle's Nest Food Pantry at the Colorado Mountain College Rifle Campus.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

“The makeup of our community is really what influenced the type of foods,” Boone said. “We had requests for rice, beans, flour and corn products to make meals.”

In addition to hitting the books, Gonzalez helps run the pantry alongside Boone. More importantly, he’s already helped implement ideas that encourage students to break the stigma of reaching out and visiting the pantry. One of which is adding an anonymous “grab ’n go” option for students.

“A lot of these kids aren’t too far out of high school, high school’s tough. People judge you,” Gonzalez said. “We need to implement some things that can get the food to the students who need it and families who need it, who might otherwise think twice about stopping and asking for help.”

Clancy acknowledges that having a pantry helps all students, regardless of age, attain a trait most everyone wants in life: independence.

“They’re trying to make their way, they’re trying to get on their own, they’re trying to get that future set for them,” she said. “I think this is nice for them to be able to have food, so they’re able to give their part.”

Edible products aren’t the only items available at the pantry. Students are welcome to basic human necessities like toilet paper and toiletries. It’s an extra hand Clancy can use to help raise her daughters.

That extra hand should also help free up space to study and fulfill her ambition to one day work for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“I love the outdoors. I’m adventurous and spontaneous. I like to know as much as I can,” she said. “One of my favorite passions in life is teaching my kids these things, whether it’s going out hiking on a trail and coming across some footprints and asking what kind of animal it is, or teaching them to fish.

You know … the simple things in life.”

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or rerku@citizentelegram.com.


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