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UMFK food pantry helps students achieve success

FORT KENT, Maine — A singular metal shelving unit shielded by homemade curtains sits inconspicuously in a corner of the University of Maine at Fort Kent TRIO Student Support Services room where students gather to study or meet up for tutoring sessions.

Behind the curtains, scattered about between empty spaces on the shelves, rest cans of soup, baked beans and a few boxes of macaroni and cheese, as well as some less common northern Maine pantry items such as enchilada sauce, canned oysters and a jar of roasted peppers.

This shelving unit and a nearby mini-fridge, which holds carrots that a local woman donated from her garden, comprise the UMFK Food Pantry, which helps to sustain students who struggle with hunger while attempting to achieve educational success.

The UMFK Food Pantry first opened last year, with a $500 mini-grant that got the program on its feet.

Hoping to see the pantry expand and to buy a standard sized fridge, administrators are applying for another mini-grant this year. They also welcome donations of food and money from community members who they say may not even know of the pantry’s existence. Any funds collected will be used to buy food or go toward the refrigerator purchase.

“We have a real need. I think there’s a real misconception that students in college are able to afford everything that goes along with college, but that’s absolutely not accurate,” said Jessica Daigle, student support services counselor and access coordinator.

The food in the pantry is available to all UMFK students, but some are particularly vulnerable when it comes to experiencing hunger.

“We serve low-income students (at the pantry). A lot of students don’t live in dorms and are not on meal plans,” Daigle said.  

Max Jandreau, 27, of Fort Kent, falls into this category. Jandreau, a junior studying computer applications with a minor in business, has a 3.9 grade point average and works two part-time jobs on campus, one operating sound and lighting equipment at Fox Auditorium for school events, and the other tutoring other students in accounting.

“I’ve utilized the food pantry a couple of times,” Jandreau said. “It has a lot of dried goods like pasta and stuff like that, broth to make soup. This definitely helps me because I’m a full-time college student and I recently just moved into a place of my own and as a full-time student it leaves me unable to work a full-time job. This helps me be able to afford food and eat.”

Jandreau pointed out another group of students who could benefit in the coming weeks.

“It’s a very vital service for our students and it will be especially vital these next two months what with the upcoming holiday season and students who live out of town and don’t go home on Christmas break,” he said.

“I’m actually one of those kids that stays on campus during Christmas break — during all breaks actually,” said Jenacie Klinger, a UMFK sophomore from Colorado. Klinger also has a 3.9 grade point average, and said she was drawn to UMFK to study in the cybersecurity program. Klinger lives in Crocker Hall, and has a meal plan, but cafeteria services are not available when school is out of session. She has visited the campus food pantry on several occasions.

“I actually took some of the carrots and they were very nice. I shared them with my roommate, and she said, ‘These are so good,’” Klinger said.  

Administrators of the pantry would like to bring more fresh vegetables to the students.

“We would like to work with local farmers to glean fields after they are picked,” Daigle said.

Students and other volunteers would be willing to help gather the remaining vegetables after harvest is complete, she said.

Lena Michaud, the director of student support services , said pantry officials also plan to work with the campus Bio-Institute to grow fresh vegetables for the pantry, and hope to purchase seeds for the greenhouse garden with money from the mini-grant for which they are applying.

In late October, five UMFK students, along with several members of the faculty and staff attended a Maine Hunger Dialogue at the University of Maine at Presque Isle where they learned about food insecurity and hand packaged bags of flavored pasta and soy to bring back to the UMFK food pantry.

“Pasta goes fast. So do beans and rice,” Michaud said. “Oh, and canned fish. A lot of international students like sardines, canned chicken and tomato sauces.”

With students from more than two dozen different countries attending the university, Michaud said it would be ideal if the pantry could also include a variety of foods with these international students in mind.

“We’d like to try to stock more oils and spices to help people adjust to eating in the United States, so it will not be so hard on their digestive systems,” she said.

The UMFK Food Pantry is located in the student support services room on the second floor of Powell Hall behind Blake Library. The pantry is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. when the university is in session.

To donate to the UMFK Food Pantry, contact Lena Michaud at (207) 834-7531 or lmichaud@maine.edu.

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