A free lunch for students and a ribbon cutting ceremony at Great Bay Community College (GBCC) marked the grand opening of the Gather Café at Great Bay, a new campus-based kitchen and café. The café opened in collaboration with Gather, a Portsmouth-based food pantry, to provide donated meals to food insecure students along with affordable, convenient, healthy food options on campus. Today’s event celebrated the continuation of a longstanding partnership and will positively impact students’ ability to achieve academic success and ultimately graduate.
“The continuation and expansion of Gather and Great Bay’s partnership will have a positive impact as we collaboratively fight food insecurity in our community and among our students,” said Dr. Cheryl Lesser, president of Great Bay Community College. “The Gather Café at Great Bay is another highly accessible on-campus option for providing food assistance to our students.”
Recently named an official New Hampshire Food Bank Agency, GBCC, and Gather, the Seacoast area’s largest hunger relief organization, have been working together for three years to combat food insecurity. In 2019, together the two organizations opened the Campus Cupboard, a grab-and-go food pantry providing healthy, sustainable snacks and personal hygiene products to “feed student success” while on campus. In January 2021 when classes were online and the campus was closed due to the pandemic, the two organizations distributed thousands of pounds of supplemental groceries such as milk, bread, eggs, dry goods and fresh produce to students through a weekly curbside food pickup service.
Through the partnership, Gather, which distributes two million pounds of food each year, has use of GBCC’s 1,000 square foot commercial-grade kitchen to support its Cooking4Community program. This food repurposing project prepares 600 meals per week for the Seacoast community, and 60 meals will go directly to GBCC students.
“Gather is thrilled for the opportunity to build on its long-term relationship with GBCC and further collaborate to reduce food insecurity,” said Tania Marino, director of the Gather Café and Cooking4Community program. “The Gather Café at Great Bay is positioned to become a meeting spot for all those seeking community, where delicious, affordable, and nutritious food will be accessible to all.”
According to numerous national studies, more than 50% of community college students suffer from food insecurity. This drastically inhibits learning and creates significant persistence challenges for many students who lack access to regular meals. Research shows the importance of consuming quality food in supporting increased academic focus, persistence and success.
“Great Bay and Gather have been helping students for over three years and opening the Café at Great Bay will provide another helpful option for students who need a little help,” said Doriana CentiPizzutilli, GBCC Biology student. “I have benefitted from the partnership which has helped me focus more on my studies and worry less about providing food for my family. As a result, I am succeeding in my classes and have secured a full-time job in my area of study.”
All of these efforts, including the expanded partnership with Gather, support GBCC’s mission to address food insecurity among students.