POWER 9® PEOPLE
An ongoing series about people improving their well-being
Fort Worth is the largest certified Blue Zones Community® in the country. Each month we talk to a different member of our community about how they experience well-being in their neighborhood. This month’s featured guest is Dr. Alison Simons, Associate Professor of Sociology at Texas Wesleyan University and coordinator of the TXWES Food Pantry. A collaboration between the university’s Sociology Club and the Polytechnic United Methodist Church, the pantry serves students, staff and faculty. Staffed by interns, student workers, and volunteers, the pantry aims to connect students to nutritious food and help them meet some basic needs.
Q: We’ve heard a lot about food insecurity among college students over the last few years. What are you seeing at Texas Wesleyan?
A: Part of the reason we started the Food Pantry was because somebody told me students were living in their cars. If they can see that students are hungry in class, the faculty will go out of the way to help. And aren’t we supposed to be helping people? There’s a need, shouldn’t we be filling it? The Polytechnic United Methodist Church agreed to start the pantry in their kitchen. The church members helped us out; they cooked bread and provided extra snacks.
A: That is a story! I was studying applied psychology and sociology and decided to complete my second year in America at the University of North Texas in Denton. I became interested in disaster research there.
Q: You’ve definitely found your sense of purpose in your work, focusing on both man- and nature-made disasters, and more recently on social vulnerabilities like poverty and food insecurity around campus.
A: I did some research in the area and the gentrification that’s happening. I built this into my research methods class; I had students go into the neighborhood and interview people to hear their stories.
Q: The Food Pantry predates the pandemic by three years. This has been a larger problem than we probably realized?
A: The church is part of campus and I’ve managed to get and keep a pantry space there. We want to be able to provide for students who may not have easy access to food options. Athletes come in for snacks for practice, but they may also get a meal because by the time they’re done with practice, the dining hall is closed.
A: I’m pretty sure every college has this issue these days. In our college, it’s partly because where we’re situated. Many of our students are working full time to try to support their family. We also have a lot of international students who don’t have family support here.
The number of students served varies depending on the month but we’re consistently feeding 50-75 students weekly. We only have about 2,000 students, although this semester our freshman class is well over 500. We’re really pushing the food pantry this semester. Students shouldn’t have to worry about food.
Q: What are you stocking?
A: We found that students don’t like canned food. Del Monte gave us a pallet of green beans and we donated that to the homeless shelter when it wasn’t used. Rice goes quickly. I try to offer some microwave meals. They aren’t the healthiest but they’re definitely grab-and-go and portable.
Q: On the Food Pantry’s webpage, it says it’s open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. What are the hours?
A: Hours depend on volunteers and what we can fit in. Volunteers are asked for an hour a week on a regular basis; we try to keep some kind of regular schedule.
A: I wanted to take the stigma away from anyone visiting the food pantry. It’s a fact that students who are food-insecure are more likely to have difficulty concentrating in class. If you need food and I don’t have what you need, I’ll try to get it.
Q: This summer, the Food Pantry got a fresh coat of paint, and in August you received a significant food facelift by becoming a Good For You Pantry, supported by Texas Health’s North Texas Healthy Communities.
A: We received our first delivery of fresh produce from the Good For You Pantry on the first day of class – providing some grab-and-go fruit and veggie options for students to walk around with. We’ll have so much more fresh produce, thanks North Texas Healthy Communities and Tarrant County ARPA funds! We’re not going for food that requires cooking because many students don’t have access to a proper kitchen.
Q: How can the community get involved in supporting these students?
A: TXWES encourages a commitment to service so students volunteer a lot. The pantry is designed to help students and staff in the neighborhood. My colleagues are always willing to help whenever there’s a need, and the student government does what they can. But we can always use toiletries and monetary donations. The website has all the information.
For more information about Blue Zones Project, visit LiveLongFortWorth.com