Administrative Executive Editor
The Office of Multicultural Student Support and Success (OMSSS) at Keene State College offers multiple opportunities for students to explore diversity. Adding to those opportunities, the OMSSS is piloting a project called International Food Pantry this year with the help of Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace. The Wallace couple are the founders of a local non-profit called the Daily Good.
“This pantry is essentially free food that is representative of a multitude of cultures and different places that the Daily Good provides for us and stocks once a month,” Kya Roumimper, the coordinator of multicultural student support and success and equity education, explained. According to Roumimper, students are open and free to take whatever they feel like or snack on here with the intention that there is a little piece of home that they can find on campus.
The pantry is filled with food items like sesame crackers, Goya food products, plantains and Pocky sticks. There is also a container of rice and a scooper and bags so students can take rice if they want. Roumimper said, “If people are curious and they want certain things that they don’t find here, all they have to do is shoot me an email. We send that list to Rich and Sandra every month, right before the beginning of the month, and they do all their shopping.”
Neil Wallace thinks of food as a significant part of any culture. “There is so much emotion and positive human experience connected with food. And you can literally break barriers across experiences by breaking bread together,” she said.
The idea of the pantry developed over the summer when the Wallace couple was interested in the work of the OMSSS and wanted to sponsor a project through their non-profit. Roumimper said, “I ended up taking it to some students and asking if there was something on campus that would be able to make this place more comfortable…the conversations kept coming back to food.”
KSC first-year student Amira Rosado expressed how elated she was when she first heard about the project. “I was excited because that means that I can bring my food that I normally eat like where I am living most of the time because not everyone has the opportunity to go home every single weekend,” she said. Rosado added, “I know that the next shipment they are going to have is a hot chocolate that Hispanics drink all the time when it’s cold outside.”
KSC junior Jennifer Mejia shared that the food made the first year of her college experience a little harder. ‘Back at home… I would go to fast food restaurants, but my mom always cooks all the time. They would cook every single day, so I always used to have my rice, beans, chicken or pork with my plantains. But when I came here, I was just like ‘I don’t want pasta.’”
Mejia is also the president of the KSC club Common Ground. According to her, the Common Ground is a multicultural club that provides student awareness about diversity and has events that promote diversity. The club recently held an event called “Bachata Night” at the end of the Hispanic Heritage Month. The club celebrated it with food from Latin America where they used the food from the pantry.
According to Roumimper, the pantry is acting as a good community builder. Roumimper encouraged all the students at KSC to utilize it by saying that there is no stipulation on how to use it.
Wallace said, “We do our best to find the foods in local groceries and the Monadnock Food Co-op. When we travel to other cities we often get some of the harder-to-find items.”
Roumimper thinks of it as a little bit of both; community engagement and engagement here at the college with the students.
Mejia said that food is a part of everyone’s identity. “You never realize what you have until it’s gone. It was a big part of my identity. I grew up eating this food,” said Mejia. “I think you embrace it more when you realize that you don’t have it all the time.”
Rosado said, “It’s made me feel more at home, more welcomed, more appreciated. Even though they don’t know us personally, they are doing something for us that is personal, so I feel more welcomed, more appreciated, more wanted.”
“I think that Keene State College and any higher ed. institution should be a place where students can see themselves in the environment. We ask students a lot to come to a new place and assimilate or conform, and this just isn’t how we should be doing things. We should be conforming as an institution to the needs of our students,” said Roumimper. “It’s a small step, but I think it’s representative of some bigger movements that we are trying to push here on campus.”
Roumimper shared the possibilities of connecting with the Hungry Owls program at KSC. “It seems redundant to have two pilot programs running at the same time that do essentially the same thing in a different way. So, I think in the future it would be nice to work with them more closely to see if we can streamline some of the stuff,” she said.
Rosado invited the students at KSC to use the pantry. “Come and join, come and take some food, try our culture and then also add a bit of yours to it,” she said.
Puja Thapa can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org