TRAVERSE CITY — A new food pantry at Northwestern Michigan College already has served more than 500 students since it opened in November.

The idea started when NMC personnel started looking at other colleges and how they addressed food insecurity on their campuses.

"We looked at that and a lot of different studies. What we found was that, across the country, about 13 percent of students are food insecure," said NMC counselor Paul Kolak.

Thirteen percent of NMC's student body translates to roughly five students per class. NMC officials used that number as a model and then created what they call the Minus Five project and the pantry.

"Any time we are raising funds for food now we are looking to eradicate the problem those five students have with food insecurity," said Kolak.

"We weren't sure how it would go because it's still new on campus but as the word has gotten out it's been steady and we get about two or three orders a day," he said.

The pantry is completely run by volunteers who work a morning and evening shift to help fill orders for students to pick up in the Osterlin Library. Students fill out a Google form online to maintain anonymity and submit their order electronically. Only a handful of full-time staff actually know who is receiving food.

"It really hits close to home because I have been food insecure in the past," said student volunteer Andrew Salk. "Since I started volunteering I have talked with some of my fellow students and it seems it's something people don't want to talk about but I think bringing awareness to an issue is good. There are probably people you know that are struggling."

So far the pantry has been sustainable and completely funded through donations and employee payroll deductions.

"Any NMC employee can give a contribution and we ask they consider giving $5 of their paycheck towards helping fund the pantry. So far about 30 people have done it to help," said Kolak.

Kolak said that NMC has also partnered with Feeding America to help the pantry stock itself in bulk.

Those who want to donate to the pantry can bring food to the Osterlin Library or give money at nmc.edu/give.

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