SFCC Food Pantry Director Sarah Knowles remembers the stigma. Of food banks, the type of people who use them and the variety of food offered. Of the lines, the processes and unfounded assumptions.
She remembers the rationalization: I need it, sure, but not enough. I should leave it for someone else. Someone who can really use it.
“It took me a while,” she says one morning, seated behind rows of fresh of food and two large boxes of yellow onions. “But then it came to a point where I really did need.”
For many students – SFCC included – that’s common: an unwritten rule to not accept help in the form of free food, not until it’s the last safety net before rock bottom. Knowles hopes that changes. And fast.
Because for the last 3 years or so, the SFCC Food Pantry in the Student Union Building on campus has been her passion.
It started as a paid position in the Associated Student Government responsible for the food bank, then grew this year as she moved into a part-time role at the college where she oversees the entire operation.
It wasn’t planned, either. Before college, Sarah had a blueprint: go to school, get a business degree, open something. A coffee shop maybe. Or perhaps a bookstore.
In, out and on the way. But then, compassion happened. She saw a vital resource, offered for free, and the roadmap shifted. Now she’s helping feed people. One meal at a time.
Her week looks like this – on Tuesdays, she oversees student positions who staff the food pantry from open to close. Then, she does an inventory and makes a trip to Walmart.
Students can access the pantry twice per month. When they do, they can grab as much as they want. Which means the shopping trips can get interesting.
On Wednesday mornings, the pantry looks like a grocery store in the middle of late-night stocking. Boxes line the floors and sometimes are overflowing due to popularity – stuffed with items like eggs, milk or laundry detergent.
And if it’s the third week of the month, that Monday Sarah is fielding deliveries from Second Harvest for the school’s monthly Farmer’s Markets, where students and faculty can grab a box or bag full of as much food as fits.
Most times the delivery van has pallets of fresh fruit, vegetables and bread. On this Monday in mid-October, though, it’s only carbs. Bagels, thick-cut sourdough, naan and more.
“It’s just really good to be able to provide and serve our students,” says SFCC Associated Student Government President Parleen Kaur as she hands out loaves of bread, the sun cascading through the canopy of orange and yellow. “ASG is happy to help people with food."
Take a walk through the rows of food in the cramped backroom near the SUB’s front entrance and the variety might surprise you. There are the staples: baked beans, cereal, stuffing, and mac and cheese. But there’s also gluten free options, vegan food and toiletries like make up, tooth paste and deodorant.
Some of the more popular items include ready-to-eat snacks and items that make an easy meal. Tortillas, refried beans and ground beef. Sarah will sometimes print off and distribute recipes too.
Third year student and ASG activities Vice President Nhy Le has been visiting the pantry for over a year and is particularly fond of the canned chowder. She also likes the vegan proteins as she rarely eats meat.
“It’s been really helpful for me,” she says. “Instead of buying food I would rather save that money. I pay for tuition myself, so it helps a lot.”
In addition to regular food pantry operations and farmer’s market, Sarah oversees the ASG’s efforts to hand out meals for Thanksgiving. Last year, they gave out over 70 ready-to-make Thanksgiving baskets donated by Northern Question Casino.
She hopes to beat last year’s record. And she’s not going anywhere until she does.
“For the next few years, this is it,” she says. “I’m not in a hury. I’m enjoying this job. And it’s amazing.”