Durham Tech food pantry feeds hundreds

What began as a small community garden, has grown to provide food for hundreds of students at Durham Technical Community College.

The volunteer coordinator Sally Parliers, Michelle Wallace and a volunteer work to preserve the garden during winter by checking the soil and planting produce for the spring.

The volunteer coordinator Sally Parliers, Michelle Wallace and volunteer Bob Shaw work to preserve the garden during winter. (Staff Photo by Alyssa Armstrong)

The Campus Harvest Food pantry, modeled after similar programs at other universities, was long in the works before it opened in January 2013. The main goal of the pantry aimed to get students out of poverty.

Sally Parlier, Durham Tech’s volunteer coordinator, said discussions about how the college could provide for their students began in August 2011.

The pantry provides two services throughout the week: Monday through Thursday ready-to-eat meals and snacks are provided, and Wednesday and Thursday grocery bags, along with the snacks, are distributed.

The grocery bags contain produce that was grown and collected from the Briggs Avenue Community Garden, next to Durham Tech’s campus.

Michelle Wallace, a horticulture agent with the N.C. Cooperative Extension, worked with North Carolina State University to create the community garden.

“It takes a lot of hands to make this happen,” she said.

Durham Tech owns a portion of the community garden where it gets some of its produce for the pantry.

Parlier said that during the last year the pantry has served more than 400 student households.

“We get nine to 12 new visitors every week,” she said. “Some people only come once, some every week.”

Darius Dukes, a 19-year-old student at Durham Tech, said the pantry helped him when he was struggling financially.

“The food pantry has benefited me by providing food when I did not have any money necessary to purchase foods from the vending machines or otherwise,” he said.

Dukes said the food pantry has also kept friends from going hungry.

“Many of my friends have the same story as me as far as the necessity of the pantry, just to a larger degree,” he said.

“The pantry has provided them with food when they have not been able to get any. This has kept them from struggling to get through the day without food, which is tough.”

Parlier said many of the student who are helped usually come back to volunteer or donate.

“We usually get five to 10 volunteers each week, usually regulars, but we get new volunteers too,” she said.

David Rowan, a 26-year-old sophomore at Durham Tech, said he volunteered for the community garden last fall.

“I really enjoyed the camaraderie that I experienced among the diverse group of volunteers,” he said.

“I was humbled in being reminded what backbreaking work agriculture is and how grateful I should be to receive food regularly in the fashion that I do.”

Parlier said it is sometimes hard to keep up with the demand for food.

“We have an all organic garden, which sometimes means that we get less produce and we do not use pesticides,” she said.

Parlier said the biggest needs for the pantry are community involvement, but it is a struggle to get people to commit for various reasons, including trying to stay on top of classes.

She said that she is looking for volunteers “who [are] willing to work and end poverty and hunger in the community.”

“Ideally, I hope we grow to a point where we can provide for as many students and families as possible,” she said.

Volunteers do not need to have previous experience, because Parlier and her team provide the tools and training.

Volunteers meet on Tuesdays 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. to stock shelves, and on Friday mornings from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. in the community garden.

Durham Tech students interested in using the pantry must have a valid student ID and will fill out a short form upon arrival.

For more information contact volunteer@durhamtech.edu or visit the website.