60 for 60: Campus Harvest Food Pantry sows seeds of change at Durham Tech, celebrates 10 years of impact

In celebration of Durham Technical Community College’s 60th anniversary, the College is publishing 60 for 60 – a storytelling campaign that highlights the people, places, and events that have progressed and shaped the College’s six decades of impact. To view more 60 for 60 stories, visit www.durhamtech.edu/60for60.

person standing in front of shelf of foodThe wake-up call came in January 2011.

It was Durham Tech’s 50th anniversary and former president Dr. Bill Ingram called for a “Year of Service” to celebrate – encouraging students and employees to participate in volunteer opportunities and service learning.

To kick off the year, the Durham Tech Student Senate, now Student Government Association, distributed 50 bags of food to students during the Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Event.

All 50 bags were gone in 10 minutes.

“It was very eye opening because that’s a lot of food to a lot of students, very quickly. That was a real wake-up call and everyone realized there might be something more to this,” said Erin Riney, Durham Tech instructor and former director of Student Engagement.

A few weeks later, Riney planted a slew of vegetable seeds in her 40’x30’ backyard garden. That summer, she harvested several bags of tomatoes, cucumbers, and a wide variety of peppers to distribute to students.

“We started Harvest Tuesdays as sort of a pilot for a food pantry, distributing the produce in the Wynn Center to see how it would be received. That food went quickly as well so we put a team together and drafted a proposal for an official food pantry,” she said.

people standing in row cutting ribbon
Grand opening of Briggs Avenue Community Garden.
The Briggs Avenue Community Garden, just three miles from Main Campus, also broke ground that year and partnered with Durham Tech to continue providing fresh produce for the pantry.

The proposal was approved in Fall 2011 and the Campus Harvest Food Pantry launched on Martin Luther King Day in January 2012.

The pantry started small – on a shelf, then moved to a closet the following year.

The pantry soon partnered with the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, which allowed them to buy food for $0.19 per pound. The first year, the pantry provided 4,032 lbs. of food to students in need.

Durham Tech was one of the first community colleges in the state to have a food pantry and has since been a leader in sharing promising practices with other colleges and reducing stigma.

“Many college campuses face the complex task of reducing the social and cultural stigma that comes with visiting a food pantry, however, our pantry has always brought a safe and secure approach to assisting students,” said Alexandra Gooding, Coordinator of the Campus Harvest Food Pantry at Durham Tech. “We have become an essential part of a student’s college experience. Our location is one of the most important factors that contributes to reducing stigma. We are located in a building with high foot-traffic, so students can walk by and see that this is an option available to them.”

Donations started to pick up in 2013 when the pantry hired its first work-study student and the Durham Tech Foundation started securing grant funding for food donations. In 2015, the pantry expanded from the closet to where it is today in the Phillips Building.

people standing in front of two fridges and excitedIn addition to growing the volunteer base, Durham Tech partnered with the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, who started hosting nutrition classes and cooking demonstrations in the pantry. Durham Tech also partnered with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service at NC State University, which manages the Briggs Avenue Community Garden. When the COVID pandemic began and the campus closed, the Cooperative Extension offered the College space in their facilities to continue serving students.

This year, the pantry provided more than 50,000 lbs. of food – a 1,150% increase from 2012.

This summer, the pantry served on average, 100 students each week, compared to pre-COVID when they only served 12-18 students per week during the summer.

The greatest needs are canned meat, breakfast cereal, canned fruit, pasta sauce, and a variety of canned vegetables.

To give monetarily, please donate through the Durham Tech Foundation, while food donations can be dropped off in the Phillips Building, room 110. Email pantry@durhamtech.edu to arrange a donation drop-off.