Brown Bag Café offers students food for thought
By: Sean E. Thomas
One in five students on St. Louis Community College-Meramec’s campus report going through their school day hungry, a statistic that came up more than once at the Brown Bag Café’s birthday celebration held on Thursday, April 6 in Business Administration building room 105.
The Brown Bag Café is one of the many avenues of support provided by the Student Assistance Program, or SAP. The celebration came complete with food, refreshments, entertainment and a cake.
The purpose of the Brown Bag Café is to help make sure every student at Meramec can worry about their education, and not when they’ll find their next meal.
In the four years since the Brown Bag Café began providing nourishment to the student body, they have faced some challenges, and while they have overcome most, Manager and student assistance specialist for SAP Claire Martin said they are still working to dismiss any negative connotations.
“We are working really hard at removing the stigma of using campus resources,” Martin said, “Another challenge would be other resources we are not able to provide easily for students. When I see hunger, when I see food insecurity, to me that’s just one indicator of many other issues that may be happening in a student’s life.”
Sarah Lewis is the agency relations manager for the St. Louis Area Foodbank and attended the BBC’s birthday not only to celebrate but also to share her experience and perspective as a contributor to the panel discussion on food insecurity.
“We all know that poverty is cyclical and we always talk about breaking the cycle of poverty,” Lewis said. “A great way to do that is education. However, there’s also hierarchy of needs and if you can’t feed yourself, school’s going to come second.”
The Brown Bag Café is in the SAP office, Clark Hall, Administration Building room 130. The Brown Bag Café is there for any student, anytime, any day they may find themselves in need of assistance in the form of food. Sky-Lar Tate, peer supervisor at SAP and a team lead for the program worries that some students who could use the help, don’t believe the program is there for them.
“I think that a lot of students don’t come because they’re like, ‘Oh, well it’s a pantry and I have ten dollars. I can just use this ten dollars.’ But it’s nice to know that ten dollars can go to gas, like, ‘Go get the gas, we got the food.’”
In a community like Kirkwood, or West County where Circle of Concern, another food assistance program is located, it is hard for some to believe that food assistance is needed.
“There’s a perception of who needs a pantry, and it isn’t widely understood that we are all a certain distance from needing one,” said Juliet Holden, senior director of resource development at Circle of Concern.
The staff at SAP and the other organizations represented at the event urged students who may need some assistance to realize and understand that they are not alone.
“In the St. Louis area one in six people struggle with food insecurity, so you are far from alone, you are far from a stereotype, you are far from an outlier,” Lewis said. “A lot of people need help. The majority of the people that utilize our food pantries, they have a job, that’s not the problem. A lot of times they just run out of money before they run out of month.”
Lewis said that lack of money can lead to some strenuous decisions.
“They’re making the hard trade-offs,” Lewis said. “‘Am I going to pay for food or medication? Am I going to pay for food or childcare?’”
The Brown Bag Café is doing whatever it can to make sure that as each year passes, less students at Meramec must ask themselves these kinds of questions. They can, instead, concentrate on their reasons for being here. Their education, their future, anything but whether they have enough money for food today.