Called to Serve: Confronting Campus Hunger
Winona Campus earns LeadMN Hunger Free designation under leadership of Student Senate President Thomas Lorenz
For Thomas Lorenz, the wakeup call came on the day that he witnessed a student being taken away from campus in the back of an ambulance. She had passed out in class.
Later, he learned that her diagnosis was simple: hunger. "As a dad, it pulled on my heartstrings. I found out that she hadn't had a decent meal in two weeks and she hadn't had a meal with meat in more than a month. And she wasn't a vegetarian."
Tom, a CNC student and father of five, said he talked to another student who was homeless. "He wasn't even used to having access to running water."
Hunger may be invisible on campus, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. The 2020 #RealCollege survey of Minnesota colleges and universities indicated that 37% of respondents were food insecure in the prior 30 days. Students reported high levels of housing insecurity and homelessness as well.
With a background in service, Tom Lorenz wanted to be part of the solution. He joined the U.S. Army at the age of 17, served until 2006, then stayed in the Army Reserves until 2013. He was a first responder at the Pentagon when it was struck by an airplane in the 9/11 attacks. Though he was not directly wounded in the line of duty, he had injuries to his back, knees and ankles.
His injuries were part of what brought Tom to Southeast. Working with the Veterans Administration, he enrolled in CNC Machine Tool as a new career direction.
Tom's first step toward setting up a food pantry on campus was finding a spare bookshelf and putting it in the Winona campus student lounge. "My wife and I put $300 worth of canned goods into it," he said.
Tom and the Student Senate enlisted the support of the college to rally around the cause:
- PTK, Med Lab Tech, and Cosmetology students held food drives.
- Instructor Jon Powell and his Construction Technology students built custom cabinetry to house the donated goods.
- Sustainable Food and Farming set up an aeroponic Tower Garden to provide greens such as lettuce, basil, and kale.
- The college established a Food Insecurity Task Force including representatives from students, faculty, and staff.
As Winona Student Senate President, Tom was motivated to apply for Hunger Free Campus standing with LeadMN, the statewide organization representing public two-year colleges. The Hunger Free Campus designation was created to recognize colleges that are actively working to reduce food insecurity and helps promote a culture of holistic student support.
Colleges with the Hunger Free Campus designation show a commitment to identifying barriers to student success and an attitude towards working towards solutions.
Tom was notified in April that the application was successful! MSC Southeast's Winona campus is one of a handful of campuses to attain this status.
Creating a legacy
As Spring Semester draws to a close, Tom will be graduating from the CNC program. He realized it's not enough to start a project -- it has to be sustainable over the long haul. Responsibility for maintaining The Pantry will be carried on by next year's Student Senate and the Food Insecurity Task Force.
But he wants to leave MSC Southeast a better place than he found it.
"You can't make yourself indispensable, but you can set up for long term success. We have to do whatever we can to make our organizations better. If people are going to school and they are hungry, we have to make sure that when they come to campus that they are safe and able to learn," he said. "It's a legacy and I want to make sure the place is better than when I came here."
"The Pantry has been a critical lifeline for many of our Winona students, and never more so than during this current pandemic," said Dean of Students Josiah Litant. "The initiative of our Student Senates and PTK members to build food pantries on both campuses has created steady, reliable, and important resources for our campus community."