Brain food: On-campus food pantry fuels students at CMC Steamboat Springs |

Brain food: On-campus food pantry fuels students at CMC Steamboat Springs

Students can get snacks, meals and dry goods at grab-and-go pantry

Elisha Colson, disability services coordinator for Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs, stocks the shelves of the student food pantry on campus Monday afternoon.
Eleanor C. Hasenbeck

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS —  Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs is working to fuel students’ success by keeping stomachs full.

This semester, the college introduced a student food pantry, which is open to all CMC students with no sign-up required and no questions asked.

If a student is overburdened by bills and tuition payments, a food budget can be the one area that’s flexible enough to skimp on, explained Student Support Services Coordinator Amy Phillips. It can be easier to eat pasta for a week straight than to miss paying a utility bill. 

“We understand also the impacts that it has on decisions,” she said. “If students can’t afford to eat and pay their bills, they may not be able to make the choice to attend their classes or to be able to put the time and energy into their classes in order to be successful.

“It’s kind of like dominoes, right?” Phillips said. “One thing starts to fall, and that impacts the next and the next. If we can provide the supports that we do in our campus — food, pantry, mental health, wellness — our goal is to, hopefully, have that kind of wraparound support to lessen the impact.”

The pantry is located in a vestibule on the third floor of CMC’s Academic Building. It’s a shop shelf stocked with snacks, microwavable meals, pastas, tuna, beef jerky and an array of sauces and canned goods. When the college’s permaculture garden is operating, there’s also produce available. There are also feminine hygiene products, bath soap, dish soap and kitchen utensils. Phillips and Disability Services Coordinator Elisha Colson said they try to stock the shelves every other week with protein-rich foods as well as microwavable sides, such as quick rice and quinoa.

It’s open to any student, no matter how many or what kind of courses they are enrolled in. Those using the pantry don’t have to provide their name but are asked to document the number of items they took and some basic demographic information, including how many credit hours they’re enrolled in and whether they live on or off campus.

“We really are trying to get rid of the stigma that it’s OK to be a hungry college student,” Colson said. “When we all went through college, you’d hear people say, ‘It’s fine, you’re hungry and poor. It’s OK. That’s what college is about.’ But it’s not what it’s about, and it’s not what it should be about. You’re expending a lot of energy working and being here and studying.”

Part of that is making sure students feel comfortable using the pantry in whatever way they need to, whenever they need to.

One student visiting the shelves questioned if she had taken too much toilet paper as she grabbed four rolls.

“If you need toilet paper, then you need toilet paper,” Colson told her.  

She walked away with all four rolls after explaining that she’d been using Kleenexes, as she hadn’t been able to get to the store lately.

“I’ve talked to other people, and they’re like, ‘Oh, I think it’s really cool, but I don’t want to use it because I feel like there are other people that need it more than me,’” said restaurant and culinary management student Monica Sanchez.

Sanchez also works with the food pantry as an administrative assistant for the college’s TRIO program.

“I feel like we all need it,” she continued. “There’s a period of time where we all just need to use it. Go ahead. That’s what it’s for. It’s for you to grab what you need if you need it in that moment. Don’t think that there are other people that need it more than you. You need it. You’re hungry.”

She uses the pantry to grab the occasional snack or bag of tea.

Monica Sanchez, a restaurant and culinary management student at Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs, organizes food at the campus food pantry.
Eleanor C. Hasenbeck

Colson estimates at least 25 students use the pantry weekly, though that might be an underestimated number. In the noon hour alone on Monday, about 10 students walked into the vestibule empty handed and walked out carrying snacks, ramen or boxed foods. More students come to the pantry at the beginning of the week when it’s freshly stocked, Colson said. Numbers start to fall off once the shelves get emptier.

It’s used in about equal number between students who live on and off campus, Colson said.

The pantry is part of an overarching goal to help students stay in good physical and mental health, so they can focus on school, Phillips said. The college offers free services through both an on-campus therapist and a physician’s assistant at its wellness center.

Colson explained that many students aren’t local. When they’re struggling, they might not have family here to rely on, and many don’t own a car or might not have the bus system figured out, which creates barriers to getting to community services at locations such as LiftUp of Routt County, she said.

Some students are working multiple jobs or supporting a family in addition to their coursework. Colson and Phillips also work to connect students to LiftUp, SNAP benefits and mental health resources in the community.

Sanchez pointed out that for those living on campus, the pantry fills in the gaps when the dining hall is closed.

“(My friends) say how it’s really awesome that there is food there,” she said. “They use it at nighttime because dinner here is done at six o’clock, then they have late-night dinners, and then you have a gap where you’re hungry. They said that a lot more people have been cooking breakfast in the dorms now because we always have pancake mix, so she’s like, ‘I am always smelling breakfast now.’ It’s been very useful for them.”

The pantry was funded for the school year by a $5,000 grant from the Craig-Scheckman Family Foundation. Phillips said the foundation has committed to continuing the pantry next school year. Sodexo, the food service company that operates campus-dining services, has also received a $1,000 grant to support the pantry. Students were also able to donate campus meal swipes to the pantry.

The college is interested in expanding the pantry to include the possibility of perishables and refrigerated goods.

Community members interested in donating to the pantry can deliver food to the front desk or to a bin stowed beneath the pantry shelves. Those interested in making monetary donations should contact Phillips or Colson.

Sanchez gives credit to her professors and CMC staff members who saw the problem and are working to address it.

“I know that this is happening on every campus, and the fact that our campus is like, ‘This is something that we need to take action on now,’ is amazing,” Sanchez said. “The care for the students is there. They know. They know that some students have the ability to go buy food, and other students show up to class hungry, and that’s not a fair game. I think that’s really cool.”

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.

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