Gather partners with Great Bay Community College, UNH to feed students

For many college students in New Hampshire and around the country, meals in the dining hall are a highlight of their day. They come together with friends, enjoy food, and take a break from classes and studying for the next exam.

But for many other students, this is not a reality.

Great Bay Community College and the University of New Hampshire in Durham are both taking action to address the problem, thanks to a partnership with Gather, a Portsmouth-based nonprofit well known on the Seacoast for providing food to people who need it.

A lack of access to food is a prevalent issue across college campuses nationally. US News and World Report has reported 38% of students at two-year colleges and 29% of students at four-year colleges experienced food insecurity in fall 2020. UNH has reported about the problem getting worse during the coronavirus pandemic.

Gather volunteer Linda Bloedel serves the community at the grand opening of the Gather Cafe at Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022.

Gather Café opens at Great Bay Community College

Great Bay Community College has begun a three-year partnership with Gather, a local organization with a mission of helping to end food insecurity on the Seacoast through food distribution programs, its Gather Pantry Market, and collaborations.

The organization’s newest endeavor is Gather Café, located in the college’s cafeteria at its campus in Portsmouth at Pease International Tradeport. The goal is helping to alleviate hunger on campus by creating nutritious food options for students at affordable prices and for free as needed.

Cheryl Lesser, president of Great Bay Community College, cuts the ribbon at the grand opening of the Gather Cafe Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022. From left are Tania Marino, director of Cooking 4 Community and Gather Café;  Brittanie Mulkigian, director of student life at GBCC, Lesser, Patti Gormley, Gather's development director;  Analycia Call, Gather's human resources;  Stacy Whittier, Gather's Cooking 4 Community manager and Justin Jarvis, Gather's board of directors chair.

Thursday, Sept. 8 marked the grand opening of the Gather Café, attended by staff members, community members, and Gather volunteers serving free meals to attendees. Representatives of the offices of the state’s congressional delegation were present to offer congratulations.

“The bottom line is that the food insecurity issues here on this campus and across the system are so strong that we had to do something to alleviate that,” said Cheryl Lesser, president of Great Bay Community College. She noted the college already had a cupboard in collaboration with Gather, offering free food for students to take home to cook and quick snack items for in between classes.

“But we needed more,” Lesser said.

The café offers items such as packaged sandwiches for $4.50 and coffee for $1. Students get a 50% discount, meaning sandwiches are $2.25 and coffee is 50 cents.

“If the students don’t have enough money for that, they can eat free,” Lesser said. “We will ensure that.”

Gather volunteers Holly Hussey, Linda Bloedel and Shir Haberman serve the community a free meal at the grand opening of the Gather Cafe at Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022.

The cafe is open to the community, not just students. It provides 60 meals every week, offering multiple choices per meal, served throughout the day and cooked by Gather volunteers. It also offers an after-hours refrigerator stocked with free food students can grab easily, even after the cafe is closed.

“It’s a win-win for both organizations,” said Tania Marino, the Cooking 4 Community director at Gather.

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