JERSEY CITY, NJ – The award-winning Hudson County Community College (HCCC) Culinary Arts Institute (CAI) is addressing the food insecurity of HCCC students that has been intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since last fall, more than 4,000 meals have been prepared and distributed at the HCCC “Hudson Helps” food pantries on the Journal Square (Jersey City) and North Hudson (Union City) Campuses.

HCCC President Dr. Chris Reber said a College-commissioned survey conducted prior to the pandemic by Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice found that 68 percent of HCCC students experienced food insecurity, housing insecurity, and/or homelessness in that year.

Dr. Reber noted that the Hope Center surveyed HCCC students again during the pandemic, with 45 percent indicating they had lost a job as a result of the pandemic, and 57 percent indicating they were experiencing food insecurity, an uptick of 8 percent from the previous year. Two-thirds of students reported they were working to support themselves and family members while attending classes, and the majority of those students were working more than 30 hours per week.

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Last year, the College’s Culinary Arts Institute and Purchasing staffs joined forces to tackle students’ and their families’ food insecurity. Since September 2020, Chef Anuchit Pukdeedamrongrit, also known as “Chef Puk,” and HCCC Culinary Club students have spent three days each week planning and preparing fully cooked, reheatable, savory meals that include a protein, starch, and vegetable. Throughout the winter, they also created delicious soups.

The CAI-prepared meals and food pantries are examples of the College’s growing culture of care. With seed funding provided by the HCCC Foundation, the College community established food pantries on both the HCCC Journal Square and North Hudson campuses in Fall 2018. Within just a few months, thousands of students had utilized the pantries. In viewing the response to the pantries, it became increasingly apparent that HCCC students had other needs, and some were discontinuing their studies for “life happens” reasons.

In Summer 2019, the College instituted “Hudson Helps,” and in addition to the food pantries, the College offered emergency financial assistance for students who may not be able to pay their utility bill or rent, or fix a problem with the car they depend on for going to and from work and classes. Additional services address mental health, social work counseling, clothing needs, assistance with obtaining government support programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and child care, and many others.

“Imagine the stress of balancing school and work, caring for and homeschooling children, tending to elderly parents and relatives, and trying to make sure there is food on the table,” Dr. Reber said. “We are determined to provide holistic support and services to help all of our students succeed.”