The power of grub
Students find daily bread and soul at FLC's Grub Hub Food Pantry
Great things have small beginnings, and the seeds for the Grub Hub Food Pantry at Fort Lewis College were indeed tiny. Started with just a handful of students and a daring faculty advisor, the Pantry has bloomed into a space where students can have their most basic needs met. For students like me, the Pantry has been a critical tool for achieving academic success.
Like many college students, I struggled with food insecurity throughout my academic career. It was not until I attended college that I fully understood the impact of a hot, nutritious meal on academic performance. Access to healthy food can make the difference between achieving high marks in class or, for some students, choosing to stay in school. A 2019 study published in Public Health Nutrition found that food insecurity had detrimental effects on students’ psychosocial health, leading to tangible influences on their GPA.
During my first year of college, I kept little food in reserve at my dorm because of a lean budget. I would sometimes skip meals to go to class, study, or sleep. However, a missed visit to the dining hall meant no food at all. Because of this, I had bouts of dizziness, trouble concentrating in classes, and reduced motivation. It was no small coincidence that my first year in college was also one of my most academically challenging times.
In my second year at FLC, I discovered the Grub Hub. It was a small office space in the basement of Reed Library and was only open once a week. With staples like beans, bread, and rice, it became a weekly ritual to stop in, say hello, and get my hands on some fresh bread. Since then, the Grub Hub has provided me and many other students with the food and nutrition we need to get through college. We were never asked to provide compensation, proof of financial need, or even our names. The open, anonymous nature of the Grub Hub, it turns out, was by design.
“We want students to have dignity in the experience of coming to the Grub Hub,” said Rebecca Clausen, professor of Sociology & Human Services. “There should be no shame, stigma, or embarrassment in seeking out a basic human need. We built this place as a microcosm of what society could be if we de-commodified food.”
Clausen, along with a few students from the Sociology Club, organized the Grub Hub in 2010 to combat food insecurity felt by students. Back then, it was even smaller than when I had stumbled upon it in 2017—a small bookshelf with a narrow variety of foods.
“It was practically a closet,” chuckled Keri Brandt Off, chair and professor of Sociology and Gender & Sexuality Studies. “Dr. Clausen wrote grants for the Grub Hub and started organizing the students. Because of that, over the last 10 years, the Grub Hub has become bigger, with more and more resources available for students.”
As of August 2021, the Grub Hub now boasts an impressive space in the Student Union. Run by a dedicated staff every weekday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Grub Hub is the center for students looking for fresh produce, hot coffee, or peer support. For a sense of scale, approximately 2,700 pounds of foodstuffs were distributed in March 2022 alone, with nearly a thousand visits during that month to the new location.
Once home to the SkyCard office, the space has been repurposed to feel more inviting to FLC students. It features bombastic murals, visitor-created music playlists, and a cascade of colorful Post-it notes where students write positive affirmations. A far cry from a little closet, the sprawling space was secured through a joint effort between FLC leadership and the student body.
“We didn’t want to stand in the way of a great idea,” said Tom Stritikus, president of Fort Lewis College. “[The Grub Hub] was buried in a small room, and it was not a particularly desirable space. To have all this rich collaboration that Dr. Clausen wanted…it needed to be in a more central location, to have some staff connected to it, and, most importantly, to have some stability.”
The leadership team worked with Clausen to find a bigger space and create a staffed position—the basic needs coordinator. In 2021, FLC hired Stella Zhu, a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, with a background in social work.
“It’s an incredible opportunity to put theory I learned in school into practice,” Zhu said. “There's so much community support. I'm thrilled to coordinate it all because the motivation and support are definitely there. It just needs someone to connect the dots.”
To connect those dots, Zhu and Clausen have reimagined the space, expanded access to local food, and received $180,000 in grants to support their efforts. In Fall 2021, Atmos Energy, a Durango-based natural gas company, donated $20,000 to the Pantry. These funds have been used to buy local food from regional producers like the Old Fort Farm in Hesperus, Colorado, and Tortillería La Flor.
The Grub Hub received another grant for $160,000 from the state of Colorado, funded through a larger ($158 million) package from U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper to support regional agriculture and food security in Southwest Colorado. The grant will go toward the renovation of the Grub Hub’s new home in the Student Union, including the installation of sinks for preparing food and seating for students who want a comfortable place to savor their food.
of food stuffs distributed from September 2021 - May 2022
Though major moves are being made by Zhu and Clausen, student volunteers run the day-to-day operations. Gillian Kelley, a sophomore studying Sociology, served as the Grub Hub’s president for the 2021-22 academic year. Kelley managed the other volunteers, processed donations, and coordinated efforts with larger organizations, like the Care & Share Food Bank in Colorado Springs. This work, Kelley noted, feels impactful.
“I think that the Grub Hub has become an important space for students to come to and feel safe,” Kelley said. “It's a major form of security, and it's difficult to focus on school without that added layer of reassurance.”
“There should be no shame, stigma, or embarrassment in seeking out a basic human need. We built this place as a microcosm of what society could be if we de-commodified food.”
— Rebecca Clausen, professor of Sociology & Human Services
For some students, the work transcends volunteering and has become part of their curriculum. Cody Taylor, a senior studying Sociology and Criminology, focused his senior capstone project around running the Grub Hub. He kept the logbooks, raised awareness about the space, and provided peer support.
“Food insecurity is a huge problem on campus, especially for non-traditional students,” Taylor said. “The work I do at the Grub Hub has been a great opportunity to apply what I’ve learned here and do something about it. It’s fulfilling.”
Going forward, the Grub Hub will expand and consolidate many campus services into one convenient location. The Pantry will offer professional clothes for job interviews, sustainable hygiene and menstruation products, help with state food assistance applications, counseling services, and more. Soon, the organization will provide culturally competent meals for students from diverse backgrounds, one small custom that can help them feel closer to home.
Through Clausen’s timely actions, Zhu’s fresh insights, and the energy of student volunteers, many students have secured more than a full belly; with the Grub Hub, they’ve also found a shoulder to lean on.
“On a surface level, it’s always been about students sharing good food with each other,” Clausen said. “But it’s about more than just food. It’s about disrupting the way we’ve structured society, and that starts with the students.”
As one of the Grub Hub’s original denizens, it’s been spectacular to grow along with the Pantry. I don’t know where I’ll be in 10 years, but I do know one thing: it’s clear that Clausen’s message is taking root. Walking through the Grub Hub’s doors, I see students breaking bread with one another, laughing, studying, and stressing about anything and everything—except about where their next meal will come from.
Benjamin Brewer (Philosophy, ’22) is a writer, editor, backpacker, and philosopher with plans to attend law school and give back to his community in the Cherokee Nation. But first, he’s excited to move from a paid internship with FLC’s Marketing & Communications team into his new role as a Presidential Communications Fellow at FLC before pursuing graduate studies.