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JCTC opens food pantry to help feed low-income students

Downtown campus is now home to The Hub

Shalaila Mayes, 24, dreams of opening her own auto shop. But as a homeless single mother of a 3-yearold, she’s sometimes found it difficult to keep her goals on track.

Recently, though, Mayes has found much-needed support through a new student resource center at the Jefferson Community and Technical College’s downtown Louisville campus.

Like other schools across Kentucky, the college has noticed a large portion of its students could use help getting food, housing and other assistance. And this week, it officially opened The Hub, a one-room center where students can pick up free food or learn about available resources.

Mayes works at The Hub part time and said she’s already seen quite a few students visit the center since it began taking referrals in February.

According to a JCTC survey, more than 18% of students on its downtown campus said there’s been a time when

Jefferson Community and Technical College has opened a student resource center, The Hub, within Chestnut Hall at 110 W. Chestnut St. BAILEY LOOSEMORE/COURIER JOURNAL


they did not have enough food for themselves or their households. Additionally, 42% of survey respondents indicated that financial essentials like food and health supplies were at least somewhat of an obstacle to their success.

“It’s something we’d been thinking about for a long time,” Vice President of Student Affairs Laura Smith said of The Hub. “Last year, things piqued when there was a lot of national attention about hunger among college students across the country. ... It revived our interest in talking about a space on campus that would go beyond just a food pantry. We talk about hunger among college students, but let’s not forget there’s more to the story than just feeding them.”

Smith said conversations about a resource center started in 2015 when a group of faculty and staff members began researching ways to increase success rates among the college’s African American students.

That year, just 15.8% of first-time, full-time minority students completed a credential within three years of normal time, according to data on the JCTC website.

Smith said the group studied national best practices for raising success rates and eventually presented administrators with three recommendations, including opening a space dedicated to meeting students’ nonacademic needs.

Budgeting and staffing issues prevented the school from acting on the center quickly. But in February, JCTC was able to hire Malesha Griffin, a trained social worker, to serve as The Hub’s student success coordinator.

Griffin said the purpose of The Hub is to connect students to on-campus and community organizations that can reduce nonacademic barriers, such as food insecurity, homelessness, unemployment and mental health issues.

The Hub works with Dare to Care Food Bank to stock its on-site pantry, and it plans to partner with community agencies that can bring their services to students who need them.

“Professors and advisers, they work hard to make sure students have what they need academically,” Griffin said. “But it’s kind of hard to focus if you’re hungry. It’s hard to focus if you’re sleeping in your car. It’s hard to focus if you don’t know who’s watching your kids. That’s the purpose of this, to address those nonacademic barriers.” Smith said discussing nonacademic issues is new to most colleges and universities, which have long drawn a line between social services and education.

“But the reality that we’re living in, if we don’t erase that line, we won’t improve the success rates our community needs us to improve,” Smith said.

“Students come here with hopes and dreams of getting a credential that will help them find a career and make a sustaining wage. We want to help them cross that finish line and get that job they need to have the life they wanted.”

Mayes said The Hub has given her hope that things will get better.

This fall, she plans to start classes toward a business administration degree. And she hopes to move out of the shelter at Wayside Christian Mission into more permanent housing.

“Students can come to class, and you think they’re OK, but you don’t know their outside life and what they’re going through,” Mayes said.

“I want people to know that it’s all right. What you’re going through, it’s OK. I’ve been going through this for a long time, but I see the light and I see it’s getting better.”

Bailey Loosemore: 502-582-4646; bloosemore@courier- journal.com; Twitter: @bloosemore. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courierjournal. com/ baileyl.

“It’s kind of hard to focus if you’re hungry. It’s hard to focus if you’re sleeping in your car. It’s hard to focus if you don’t know who’s watching your kids.”

Shalaila Mayes, 24, works at The Hub, a student resource center and food pantry at Jefferson Community and Technical College on Chestnut Street in downtown Louisville. BAILEY LOOSEMORE/COURIER JOURNAL

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