food co-op for college students in connecticut

From Hunger to Hope: The Ann B. Clark Co-Op is Addressing Food Insecurity on Goodwin’s Campus.

Today, 1 in 3 U.S. college students are going hungry, and not just hungry as in they are growing young adults with an appetite. These college students don’t have access to enough nutritious foods. According to the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, more than 40% of American college students struggle with food insecurity. Among the many factors that lead to food insecurity are poverty, unemployment, lack of access, and health concerns.

Health-related inequalities, like food insecurity, negatively impact students’ health, well-being, and academic performance. As a university that serves many students from underrepresented groups, Goodwin is continually exploring solutions to the lack of access to nutritious foods on college campuses.

We recently sat down with Isamar Rodriguez, MS, Goodwin’s Community and Educational Service Learning Coordinator, to find out how the Ann B. Clark Co-op helps provide much-needed food and other resources to Goodwin students, employees, and Goodwin Magnet School families.

Meaningfully Addressing Food Insecurity Among College Students

Everyone deserves access to healthy, nutrient-rich foods. Unfortunately, students from minority backgrounds and underrepresented groups are less likely to have this kind of access — leading to food insecurity. College students, especially, are more likely to hide that they are struggling with hunger, and they often have difficulty asking for assistance. Goodwin is dedicated to creating a culture where students know it’s okay to ask for help.

Before March 2020, Isamar and the Student Affairs department ran a small food pantry in a closet in the back of Goodwin’s Manufacturing building on Pent Rd. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, food insecurity worsened among Goodwin students and their families. As the pandemic sent students away from campus, there was a growing concern about how to meaningfully address food insecurity in the Goodwin community.

The food pantry continued to serve the Goodwin community throughout the pandemic, but the staff wondered if there was a more effective way of meeting the nutritional needs of our students.

“I grew up going to food pantries. I understand the difference they make for people and families. Since joining Goodwin, I’ve met students who only had water for several days or others who were eating less so that their children would have enough food. The pandemic made it even worse. The food pantry never stopped serving students and families, but we wanted to do more,” says Isamar.

Research suggests that there are more effective ways for food pantries to meet the health needs of underserved populations. One of those ways is through a co-op model. The main difference between a food pantry and a co-op is the environment. “The co-op model helps students feel more welcome. It’s run by Goodwin community members for Goodwin community members,” says Isamar. Making the environment more welcoming helps to reduce the stigma associated with needing help.

Opening the Ann B. Clark Community Co-Op

As plans evolved to build a co-op in place of a food pantry, one of the main concerns was accessibility. The food pantry was difficult for students to access. It was off the main campus, and students couldn’t enter the building themselves. It took a lot of coordination between staff and student workers to bring food items outside to the students and magnet school families who needed them.

Space was also an issue. Despite their efforts to expand, there wasn’t enough room to properly store all the food items Goodwin wanted to offer. Discussions began about moving the co-op to where it is currently located at 167 Riverside Drive, right next to Goodwin’s main building on campus. “The location was perfect because it was easy to find, and it was right on the main bus line serving campus — making it easier for students and magnet school families to access the co-op,” said Isamar.

With the support of Goodwin’s leadership, planning and construction went from 2021 to the 2022 school year, with the new Ann B. Clark Co-op opening in the fall 2022.

Reducing the stigma and shame attached to using a nutrition service like the co-op is essential to its effectiveness as a campus resource. “We’ve worked hard to make the space welcoming to students and families. We’ve painted, added seating, and we work hard to promote good customer service,” noted Isamar. Making students and their families feel welcomed and supported is a critical aspect of the co-op model. They feel comfortable enough to come back and get more next time and to tell others about the co-op.

“We want people to know we’re here,” said student worker and co-op client Kimberly Lafortune. Kimberly is a single mother of six and a student in the Funeral Services department. After leaving her job as a truck driver, she decided to go back to school to study Funeral Services. “I had to leave the truck because my baby was breastfeeding, and my children needed me at home,” said Kimberly. Driving a truck meant long hours away from home. Coming off the road and going to school means a stable future with her children. However, feeding her family as a full-time student can be challenging. Kimberly has used the co-op to supplement her family’s nutrition needs and has recently begun working at the co-op a few days a week as part of the Federal Work-Study program.

Serving up More than Just Food

Another co-op client and Goodwin student, who asked to remain anonymous, noted that the co-op helped him secure winter clothing for his nephew. Studying to become a nurse, this student lives far away from his immediate family and turned to the co-op when he struggled to find enough food for himself. He is set on a career path to serve others as a healthcare provider. The co-op made the difference he needed to continue his studies. “Being a first-generation college student can bring some struggles — they were able to empathize with me, and it made me feel very comfortable in the co-op,” he said.

“We have more than peanut butter and jelly,” said Isamar. When you walk into the co-op, it feels as if you’re walking into a community market. The first thing you see is grocery store-style shelving filled with dry goods, canned goods, and pantry essentials in the middle, surrounded by walls of commercial refrigerators filled with meat, fish, and fresh produce that changes weekly. A second room is designed like a consignment shop, with clothing for men, women, and children. “We’ve helped students with holiday gifts for their children. We have shoes, dress clothing for job interviews, toiletries, and a diaper bank for families with young babies and toddlers.” There is a table and chairs set up for children to play or color while their parents shop in the co-op.

Providing a Service that Helps Goodwin Students and Families Succeed

People struggling with food insecurity often struggle in other ways, too. The co-op helps provide resources for students, employees, and magnet school families while reducing the shame that comes with asking for help. All students deserve dignity — and Goodwin’s Ann B. Clark Co-op is helping to restore that dignity. The co-op helps provide clothing — usually donated by Goodwin staff, faculty, and alumni. Formal attire is often not accessible for co-op clients, but it’s necessary to secure a job during an interview.

Kimberly Lafortune recounted a time she was working in the co-op when Ann B. Clark came in to drop off a clothing donation. “I was having a rough day. I had just chipped my tooth the day before. A woman walked in and could tell I was having a moment. She asked me if she could hug me. She gave me a long caring hug. I later found out that it was Ann Clark!”

“We do it differently here,” said Isamar.

From its early planning stages, Ann B. Clark and Goodwin staff wanted the co-op to be much more than a food pantry. They wanted it to be a space where students could feel seen without the academic pressures of the classroom — a space where it was safe for them to be vulnerable and feel cared for. That feeling of safety and security is what brings students back to the co-op after that first time — coming back again and again, and getting the resources they need, is what helps students and their families succeed.

Getting Students in the Door

One of the biggest challenges Isamar and her student workers have faced is bringing awareness to the Goodwin community that the co-op is there and is free to Goodwin students, employees, and magnet school families. The co-op sends weekly communications to current clients about what is available, but getting new students to come in has been a challenge. Student workers are at the forefront of the co-op for this reason. They’ve been deeply involved in the planning process — coming up with new ways to bring more awareness to the community about the co-op.

Student workers have plans to start tabling at events in the main building and speak to current students — inviting more people into the co-op. For now, word of mouth has played a vital role in getting more students to take advantage of this invaluable on-campus resource.

What’s in Store for the Co-Op in the Future?

Many of Goodwin’s students come from diverse backgrounds. Food dignity for people struggling with food insecurity means having foods that are culturally appealing to them. The Goodwin staff hopes to bring more cultural foods to the co-op. Currently, there are some vegan and vegetarian options, and occasionally, Halal meats. Co-op staff hope to expand cultural offerings so that Goodwin students and families can access foods that align better with their cultural identities. Monetary donations help the co-op source these types of offerings.

Student Affairs hopes that as awareness builds for the co-op, more departments will become involved in the work the co-op is doing. They look forward to inviting staff and faculty to the co-op in the future to volunteer their time and help contribute to the welcoming environment Goodwin is trying to achieve.

The Ann B. Clark Co-op serves members of the Goodwin University community and is managed by a team of faculty, staff, and students. Through the passion, generosity, and inspiration of Goodwin University’s provost emerita, Ann B. Clark, the co-op ensures that no Goodwin student has to choose between affording school or food.

For more information on co-op services or to learn about getting involved, please contact:

Isamar Rodriguez, MS, Community and Educational Service Learning Coordinator.