New Mexico Tech’s Skeen Library
John Larson | El Defensor Chieftain

Students at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (New Mexico Tech) will soon be able to check out more than books to feed their hungry minds from the campus library. The Joseph R. Skeen Library will host the first-ever food pantry, readily available for hungry students, staff, and members of the public.

Plans are underway for a location in the library’s atrium to stock dry goods, fresh veggies, feminine hygiene products, and to provide information about other helpful resources that go hand in hand with food insecurity – mental health and medical resources. Information about applying for government programs, such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Women, Infants, Children), and other economic assistance programs also will be featured.

According to Michael Voegerl, director of Student Affairs and International Programs coordinator, hunger issues among the university’s student population came to the surface and grew during the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic. His office managed food commodity and household supplies distribution to students in need.

“We did receive a ton of donations from people on and off campus” to address food insecurity among students, he said. “We learned that hunger was higher than we anticipated among staff as well.”

With a suggestion from New Mexico Tech President Stephen G. Wells, a grant opportunity from the New Mexico Department of Higher Education, and the assistance of two students who gained valuable grant writing experience, multiple efforts converged to land the funding needed to take the idea from concept to reality — in a matter of a few months. A student worker in the Student Affairs Office and her lab partner were searching last semester for a technical communications project at the exact time a state grant opportunity to address student hunger became available. The students jumped at the opportunity to learn grant writing best practices and provide a much-needed service on campus, Voegerl said.

After the students laid the groundwork for the grant, Voegerl enlisted the assistance of one of New Mexico Tech’s “grants gurus,” Elizabeth Kramer-Simpson, Ph.D., to flesh out the grant request so it would pass muster with state evaluators.

“They were really looking for collaboration between the university and other entities,” he said.

After doing some legwork, Voegerl was able to line up matching funds from Chartwells Dining, New Mexico Tech’s food service provider, to assist with stocking the food pantry with dry goods, such as beans and rice, and with ordering food from the vendor at cost. Food pantry organizers turned to the Socorro Community Garden and the New Mexico Tech Garden Club to establish partnerships that will supply fresh veggies. Another collaboration is with Socorro Storehouse, a local food shelf, for expertise in storing food properly following established sanitation guidelines, and acquiring affordable food suppliers, as well as experience in what local food pantry users might be seeking, Voegerl said.

Another entity participating in the campus-community collaboration is the Skeen Library, where the food pantry will be housed initially, featuring consistent availability for students, staff, and community members in a discrete, easy-to-access location that has the longest hours of operation of any campus building, Voegerl said.

“There’s no stigma attached to visiting the library,” he said. “It gives us an enclosed space that’s protected from the elements, but still has very easy access for everybody to get their food from.”

Voegerl said another reason the library was chosen as the food pantry’s site is so that staff — and members of the public — can easily access food and other resources anonymously. The food pantry at New Mexico Tech will supplement other community anti-hunger efforts, such as food shelves and free meals offered at area churches.

In the past, the Student Affairs Office provided emergency food assistance whenever it could to help students in need, but there was “no big plan” to directly address hunger on campus, Voegerl said.

“Now, with the food pantry, we have a plan to provide food for our students,” he said. “People can count on it. People will know it’s there.“

Although the grant aimed at addressing college hunger from the New Mexico Higher Education Department was secured in February, Voegerl said the food pantry is still in the planning stages until the funding arrives so the service can be launched. The food pantry – which hasn’t yet acquired a name (but suggestions are welcome) – will be staffed by a student worker to oversee its operation.

To donate food, paper goods, hygiene products, and for more information, contact Voegerl at [email protected] or call him at 575-835-5060.