With help from The Community Market, CMC Vail Valley campus opens no-cost food pantry for students
Special to the Daily
Thanks to a partnership between The Community Market and Colorado Mountain College Vail Valley, students can now access nutritious food at no cost to them without having to leave campus.
Tuesday, Jan. 14, marked the opening of The Community Market at CMC, a quaint but fully stocked food pantry on the main floor of the Edwards campus.
The Community Market, a project of Eagle Valley Community Foundation, strives to “improve access to healthy food” for everyone in Eagle County.
Bridget Bradford, development assistant and office administrator for EVCF, said the pantry’s opening will help them come closer to meeting that goal.
“Students and staff have been very excited to have a food pantry available,” she said. “We saw lots of smiles and felt the appreciation.”
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Filling a need
Over 100 students visited the pantry in the first week alone, Bradford said.
Dr. Marc Brennan, vice president and campus dean of CMC Vail Valley, said the first week’s numbers show that administrators made the right decision in providing additional resources and support to help make the pantry a reality.
“Clearly this is an issue that is affecting our students and, you know, our faculty and our staff are just so totally on board with this because they can also see it’s an issue for our students,” Brennan said.
For now, the pantry will be open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 3:30-6:30 p.m. in room 114. Brennan said these hours were carefully selected to reflect the times when the largest number of students are on campus at once.
“On Wednesday nights we offer our English as a second language classes,” he said. “So there’s an opportunity there as well to reach more members of the community that we potentially wouldn’t otherwise.”
Fresh and healthy
True to TCM’s values, “about half of the groceries in the pantry are fresh produce, prepared meals and healthy drinks” with non-perishable grocery items making up the other half, Bradford said.
Brennan said he was surprised to learn from The Community Market team that approximately 16 percent of Eagle County residents experience food insecurity. He said that this statistic, combined with the fact that almost all CMC students at the Vail Valley campus live locally, made him realize how important it was to take action.
“To be honest, I was totally surprised,” he said. “When you hear that kind of information, it’s a call to action, isn’t it? And you really want to help in whatever way you can. And realizing I think, at that moment, what an impact this has on our students … it’s huge.”
The presence of food insecurity amongst CMC students came as no surprise to Bradford, who was a student there herself. She said that, for students, the cost of textbooks and classes is compounded by the heightened cost of living in the valley.
“As a CMC sustainability studies graduate, I’ve experienced and witnessed the need for an on-campus food pantry,” Bradford said. “This gap has been visible for a long time, and thankfully the infrastructure is now in place to feed the need.”
Bradford said students were elated to partake once they learned more and met members of the TCM team.
“Students have expressed gratitude, surprise, and even offered themselves up as willing volunteers,” she said. “Several students were already familiar with our warehouse in Gypsum and were happy to see our presence on campus.”
One such student volunteer is William Schmick, who has been volunteering with The Community Market for quite some time. Schmick said he is happy to serve as lead volunteer and liaison to the CMC community, walking fellow students through the fresh food options in the pantry.
Brennan and Bradford agreed that Schmick has been an important asset to the operation.
“Someone is always there when it is open and Billy [Schmick], one of our students, is often there as well,” Brennan said. “One of the great things about that is it’s just a really great opportunity for making connections.”
Schmick described his role with The Community Market at CMC as “chief encourager to take more,” and agreed with Bradford that the need amongst students goes deeper than many may realize.
“Students are hungry, often between jobs or classes, and purchasing food often means sacrificing health for convenience and affordability,” Schmick said.
Achieving The Community Market’s ambitious goal of improving access to healthy food for everyone in the valley means making healthy food just as affordable and available as the cheap and greasy alternatives, Schmick said.
“While the Community Market does an excellent job reaching throughout the valley, students may find it difficult to arrange their school and work schedules around finding a bus to one of our markets,” he said.
TCM hosts weekly free food markets across the valley from Avon to Dotsero. Placing a similar market in CMC is an innovative way to make good food more accessible to students who need to be properly nourishing their bodies so they can reach their full academic potential, Brennan said.
“The stress that is associated with being hungry or worrying where your next meal will come from is not going to help you in your studies at all,” Schmick said. “We know that people come to CMC because they want to change their lives or improve their lives so we’re just trying to remove any barriers to doing that.”
‘The problem is distribution’
For Schmick, his studies at CMC center around sustainable business. He also works with the zero waste team at Walking Mountains Science Center. Schmick said his passion for green business practices gives him a unique perspective on food waste as it relates to food access.
“I found that, like many places in the U.S., there is plenty of food in the valley. The problem is distribution,” he said. “As a sustainable business student, the externalities resulting from distributional inefficiency interest me.
“The idea that food is scarce is a fiction created by the people wanting you to buy it before you need it, keep it in your fridge and, after it goes bad, throw half of it away.”
According to its website, the majority of TCM’s food is “rescued” from local farms, grocery stores and restaurants where it would have otherwise been wasted.
Volunteering gives Schmick an opportunity to work at the intersection of food systems and food justice, learning from the TCM team and looking for potential solutions in his own community, he said.
“Until the means of producing fresh and healthy food is regarded as a public good and guarded by an understanding that food is a basic human right, The Community Market at CMC will continue to redistribute the valley’s leftovers,” Schmick said.
Schmick said he encourages anyone interested in learning more about these issues to consider volunteering as a way to broaden their sustainability knowledge while also engaging with fellow students and community members in a meaningful way.
“Vail is an incredibly welcoming environment, and it did not take long for me to realize that many of the people that have helped me here need help themselves,” he said. “We all need help — to give it and to receive it, and we all need food, and I think volunteering in an environment where those needs are met is a good and worthwhile use of my time.”
Student volunteers are welcome to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how they can help create a more sustainable culture on campus, Bradford said.
Kelli Duncan is a marketing and volunteer coordinator with The Community Market, a project of Eagle Valley Community Foundation.