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Mount Mercy joins food pantry movement

New on-campus market aims to address food insecurity

Cliff Jette/The Gazette

(from left) Mount Mercy University employees (from left) LeeAnn Olson, Connie Albaugh and Darcy Rayner take a look at the donated food at the Mustang Market during a grand opening ceremony April 5 for the food panty located in the Busse Library at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids. The free food pantry, open to all Mount Mercy students, was launched to help students facing food insecurity.
Cliff Jette/The Gazette (from left) Mount Mercy University employees (from left) LeeAnn Olson, Connie Albaugh and Darcy Rayner take a look at the donated food at the Mustang Market during a grand opening ceremony April 5 for the food panty located in the Busse Library at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids. The free food pantry, open to all Mount Mercy students, was launched to help students facing food insecurity.

As a Tigers team captain at Iowa Wesleyan five years ago, Jamarco Clark helped ensure his football squad stayed fueled.

“I had plenty of teammates who would go without their meals,” Clark said. “So I would cook the big meals for my teammates so that no one would be going without food.”

His awareness of food insecurity on campus, which national data show has been rising with higher tuition costs, prompted Clark in his current position as director of volunteering and service-learning at Mount Mercy University to launch the newest college-based food pantry in Iowa.

Mustang Market officially opened April 5 in the basement of the Busse Library — giving students, faculty, and staff an alternative, free option for food — “vital in preventing students from going hungry.” Other college and university campuses locally and nationally have done likewise, including Iowa State University and University of Iowa — which opened its in August 2016, serving hundreds of students with thousands of pounds of food.

In justifying the need for a free on-campus food source, Mount Mercy pointed to findings from the American Educational Research Association showing about half of more than 30,000 surveyed two- and four-year college students are “food insecure,” with at least 20 percent of two-year college students reporting “very low levels of food security.”

But Clark said he needed no more proof than his personal experience.  

“I’ve just always known that food insecurity was a problem, even when I was in college myself,” he said. “Talking to other staff members on campus who help students get food — myself, I personally have bought students food … I didn’t think there was a need for a survey. The survey would have just prolonged the process.”

The Mustang Market, for now, will be open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. Hours and days could shift during the summer months, although the pantry will remain open, according to Clark.

Food options include mostly non-perishable items, such as soups, pastas, peanut butter and jelly, and condiments. That could expand as the pantry establishes itself and moves into refrigerated options like meat, milk and eggs.

Anyone with a Mount Mercy identification card can tap the free pantry, regardless of whether he or she is a student, staff member, or on faculty. And the organizers are putting no limits on what shoppers can take — or how much.

“If they take it, I want to assume they need it,” Clark said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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