Step inside The Community Feed at Tidewater Community College and you’ll see artfully designed spaces that promote healthy eating. On display in the farmer’s market are an assortment of fresh vegetables —tomatoes, carrots, peppers, asparagus, greens, potatoes, apples and even bulbs of garlic.

A front counter features a colorful sign to welcome TCC students, as they pick-up pre-ordered meal kits that will feed a family of four.

Participating in the ceremonial snip are (left-right) Jim Walker, general manager, MacArthur Center; Emanuel Chestnut, provost, TCC’s Norfolk Campus; TCC President Marcia Conston; Foodbank President Ruth Jones Nichols; Kevin Jones, board chair of the Foodbank; and John Baiocco, president of TowneBank Norfolk.

“This is wonderful. This is really a president’s dream!” said TCC President Marcia Conston at the ribbon-cutting event on June 29 for the Community Feed at TCC, the first food pantry to open thanks to the partnership between Tidewater Community College and The Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and The Eastern Shore.

The pantry, made possible due to a $250,000 donation from TowneBank, is located across from the Apple Store on the second level of Norfolk’s MacArthur Center.

 “We are prioritizing student success at TCC because, simply put, if students are hungry, they can’t succeed,” President Conston said.

President Conston with Ruth Jones Nichols
President Conston with Ruth Jones Nichois inside The Community Feed at TCC.

In the fall of 2019, Glenn Dubois, chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges, urged community college leaders to address food insecurity among students.

Data released by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice estimates that 48 percent of community college students face food insecurity. The survey was sent to 1.5 million students and 86,000 responded.

The Community Feed at TCC will begin distributing meal kits to students with TCC ID cards on June 30; they must be ordered in advance online. Student can select two meal kits, each designed to feed a family of four. Three options are available each week including a vegetarian dish. To ensure the safety of all students due to COVID -19, employees and volunteers, social distancing will be followed.

The overall vision of The Community Feed at TCC incorporates:

  • Connecting people with one another over quality food and conversation
  •  Sharing resources that include recipe cards, books and wellness materials
  •  Providing access to fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Workshops and learning sessions led by community partners on topics related to the root causes of food insecurity

The Campus-Based Pantry and Food Scholarship Program began last fall with pop-up pantries on the Norfolk and Portsmouth campuses. These quickly became a lifeline for many students.

“The food always seemed to come right on time, and I was grateful to have the resource right on campus,” said student Renee Robinson. “There were meals and other produce items available every time. One week I was able to make eggplant parmesan, and it was really good. I also make all kinds of salads with the fresh greens, onions, peppers, carrots and corn.”

Robinson added, “I appreciate that this service is here for us. We talk about it a lot among ourselves and are so grateful for the assistance. My family is eating good, quality food. What could be better than that?”

The Farmer’s Market inside The Community Feed at TCC.

“For many students, access to healthy food is a building block for successfully completing their education and moving toward living wage positions,” said Ruth Jones Nichols, president and CEO of the local Foodbank. “We know that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, 37 percent of households were choosing between food and educational expenses. The Foodbank is committed to working with strategic partners like TCC to leverage food security as a foundation upon which to build a more transformational model for creating multiple pathways to success in life.” 

The Community Feed at TCC — open to all TCC students with a valid student ID — has a long-term goal of opening to the community. For now, the pantry is available by appointment two days a week. As Virginia continues its phased approach to re-opening following the COVID-19 pandemic, The Community Feed at TCC will extend hours of operation to accommodate more students.

“Building stronger communities is a cornerstone of TowneBank’s philosophy, and this partnership with the Foodbank and TCC strategically aligns with our commitment to serving and enriching the lives of others,” said John Baiocco, president of TowneBank Norfolk.

The space was donated by the mall as part of its Live 360 community service programs.

The space was donated by MacArthur Center and designed by TCC alumna Leisa Arrington.

“TCC has been our neighbor for 15 years,” said Jim Walker, general manager of MacArthur Center. “The vision that was created here is something to see. I’ve been so impressed by this partnership that I’ve sent the idea to other mall managers across the country to see if we can get them to partner with their foodbanks to meet community needs.”

The Community Feed at TCC was designed by Leisa Arrington, a TCC interior design alumna. Arrington also has a business degree from the college and owns and manages her firm, Proverbial Interior Design Solutions, LLC.

More information about The Community Feed at TCC is available at FoodbankOnline.org.  For questions, email Dean Thomas E. Chatman, Jr. or Dean Kerry Ragno.

The space includes areas to gather for good food and conversations.