More than 95,000 people in Polk County — about 15% of the population — are unsure if they have enough to eat to feed their families three meals a day, according to the United Way of Central Florida. For Polk State College students, there is help on campus.
Since 2017, the Lakeland campus has been home to the Polk State Pantry, which provides food-insecure students with snacks, meals to prepare at home, hygiene products, and more.
“When we started this, there was a nationwide conversation about college students facing food insecurity,” said Kim de Ronda, Polk State Director of Testing and Special Education at the Center for Computing Education (TLCC). “Polk County is not one of the luckiest communities. We wanted to meet the resource needs of our students. We opened the door for faculty and staff to volunteer their time and did what we could to help.”
The store is located in LLC-2155A, and is based on donation. Accepts dry, non-perishable goods such as snack bars, cereal, and peanut butter, as well as hygiene products, frozen foods, and fresh produce. Financial donations are also accepted and can be made online here.
There are no set hours for Pantry currently, but DeRonda expects that to change soon. Students who need resources can contact TLCC staff in person, at 863.297.1044, or DeRonda at email@example.com. Times can be arranged to accommodate students, and services are confidential. The Pantry is looking for volunteer staff and faculty as well as donations.
“We want to make sure students in need know they are welcome,” de Ronda said. “It is important that these students have these resources.”
Located at WST-128 on the Winter Haven campus, My Brother’s Keeper offers similar services. My Brother’s Keeper works with working students and part-time employees, and is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday or by appointment. Earlier this week, My Brother’s Keeper received a $6,000 donation from Publix Super Markets Charities.
My Brother’s Keeper is also responsible for the Soar Healthy Eagles Program. Funded by a Florida Blue Foundation Food Security Grant, Soar Healthy Eagles partners with the United Way of Central Florida, Feeding Tampa Bay, and the Extension Office of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in Polk County to help students increase their knowledge of nutrition and access to resources.
Aspects of the program include guidance on how to sign up for SNAP, free healthy lunches, help with grocery purchases, and the chance to win gift cards. The program is available to Polk State students at all universities.
To learn more about Soar Healthy Eagles, click here. To apply, click here. For more information about My Brother’s Keeper or to make an appointment, call 863.297.1010, ext. 3423 or email SALO@polk.edu. Online donations can be made here.
All donations to Polk State Pantry or My Brother’s Keeper will be used to stock shelves for students in need. Students who are not food insecure can purchase snacks from vending machines or bookstores on both the Winter Haven and Lakeland campuses.
“The Polk State Pantry and My Brother’s Keeper both play a vital role in making sure our students in need do not go hungry,” said Melvin Thompson, Director of the Office of Student Activities and Leadership. “Research has shown that students learn best when they are well fed.”
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