Students cannot be successful if they are hungry.
This fact led Brazosport College and the Houston Food Bank to partner and create Gator Mart to provide students with groceries, easing their financial burden and reducing food insecurity.
"This is an exciting time at Brazosport College," College President Millicent Valek said. "Providing student support is so vital to our student success agenda."
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Food insecurity is an issue on campuses around the nation, and Brazosport College is no different, she said. The college has had a food pantry for some time, but the partnership and opening of Gator Mart brings fresh fruits, vegetables and meat to its selection, Valek said at its recent grand opening.
Gator Mart is also home to a clothing closet for students to have professional dress for presentations and job interviews, a bulk of which was donated by Elaine's Fashions, she said.
Brazosport College students are eligible to receive up to 60 pounds of healthy food twice a month through food scholarships, according to a news release.
It's great whenever a college uses its resources to invest in students like this, said Harry Hadland, business process manager for the Houston Food Bank.
Food scholarships are part of the food bank's Food for Change program, which goes beyond the emergency food assistance to address the root causes of hunger, addressing why food insecurity was increasing despite the food bank putting more food into the community than ever before, Hadland said.
"We began looking at partnerships to where instead of just getting them when they're hitting their worst, but to get them when they're on their way to being better," he said. "We wanted to get to that point instead of waiting until it was too late to help somebody to that next step."
The market-style Gator Mart is more inviting than the stereotypical food pantry with cans and nonperishables, Hadland said.
Dry goods are often high in sodium and starch and not nutritious, said Kelli Forde Spiers, Brazosport College director of student life.
The college has a large number of students who face food insecurity and a large number of students with children and families to feed, Spiers said.
Getting groceries at Gator Mart will allow students to save their money and leverage the finances they have for other necessities, she said.
"If you have a flat tire, you can put that $50 you spend on groceries every month in savings for that," Spiers said.
Students can't study, take tests and attend classes if they are hungry or worrying about what they will feed their kids, she said.
Heather Richards, a student working on her basic classes and hoping to enter the pipefitting program, told The (Brazoria County) Facts that Gator Mart will help her feed her two children who she raises largely on her own.
She is the only one in her house with a car, so her kids and others depend on her while she also tries to complete her higher education, Richards said.
"They're the reason why I'm here, though, they give me a reason," she said. "It's really hard, very stressful. But I won't quit just because it's hard."
The college commits to providing baby items including diapers to students, Spiers said. It focuses on serving all students, not just those in the typical 18 to 21 age range, she said.
"We have to meet those needs," Spiers said.