CROSSVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) and Roane State Community College today announced the permanent space for a food pantry to serve the Roane State community, based at the school’s Cumberland County campus.
The announcement is part of a TDEC pilot – the Tennessee College and University Food Pantry Assistance Program – which seeks to address both food insecurity and food waste at higher education institutions across the state.
“We know that college students in particular can experience high levels of food insecurity, and we also know that too much of our food is going to waste,” said Kendra Abkowitz, assistant commissioner for TDEC’s Office of Policy and Sustainable Practices. “With this pilot program, we can address both issues at once. This is a special opportunity to serve our higher education institutions in Tennessee while also tackling a common waste generation and disposal issue.”
According to a study by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, as many as two-thirds of community college students nationwide are food insecure.
“We greatly appreciate our partnership with TDEC as we work together to address food insecurity for our students,” Roane State President Dr. Chris Whaley said. “The initiative is part of the college’s holistic approach to student success as we work to help our students overcome challenges both inside and outside the classroom.”
Roane State opened its food pantry in September 2018 and has served about 50 people, including students and their families. TDEC supported the purchase of shelving and refrigeration equipment. Food items come from a variety of sources, including donations and bulk purchasing. A portion of the food provided – currently 16 percent – is rescued via the Second Harvest Food Bank and would have otherwise gone to a landfill. Utilizing rescued, or gleaned, food items is a requirement of the partnership with TDEC. Roane State works with a local nonprofit organization, A Place of Refuge, to order goods from Second Harvest.
The attention to reducing food waste statewide is part of TDEC’s Get Food Smart TN initiative and 2025 Solid Waste and Materials Management Plan.
“We see this as an opportunity to help students secure their basic needs while also supporting communities in their waste diversion, educational, and workforce development goals,” said Abkowitz. “We hope to expand this program to areas in Tennessee with particular need and campuses that serve non-traditional student bodies, including technical colleges or rural campuses.”
The vast majority of students at Roane State’s Cumberland County campus are from Cumberland County, with about 10 percent from Fentress County, which is designated as a distressed county. Overall, 64.9 percent of Cumberland County students in pre-K through 12th grade qualify for free lunches. Since many of the higher income students go to four-year colleges or universities, Roane State experiences a higher percentage of students who have previously qualified for free and reduced-price meals. There is no food service on the campus, only vending machines, demonstrating why a food pantry is needed to help students and their dependents experiencing food insecurity.
TDEC plans to expand the pilot program in the coming months. Additional information regarding this expansion will be available later this spring at https://www.tn.gov/environment/program-areas/opsp-policy-and-sustainable-practices.html.