LAWRENCE — Not long ago, pre-pandemic, Northern Essex Community College was serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the hallways of its Lawrence campus. 

Sure, NECC President Lane Glenn may have really liked a grab n' go grape jelly with crunchy Jif, but the PB&J sandwich stations signaled a lot more, the community college head explained. According to Glenn, they illustrated the harsh reality many college students face, right at home in Lawrence: That food insecurity is very real.

Glenn, NECC students and staff welcomed Sen. Elizabeth Warren to the Lawrence campus Tuesday to underscore that reality as they showed Warren the school's food pantry inside the Dimitry Building, 45 Franklin St. There is also a companion pantry at the Haverhill campus. Warren visited Lawrence to tout the Student Food Security Act, legislation aimed at addressing food insecurity on college campuses.

"Community colleges are in the opportunity business to make sure people have lots of opportunities," Warren said, applauding the school's food pantry and mobile food market initiatives. "When I first started talking about food insecurity among college students in Washington, several other senators said 'No, we're talking about college students,' as in you're either a college student or you have food insecurity problems, but that you can't (deal with) both, like certainly college students have enough to eat."

Courtney Morin, a student double majoring in philosophy and biology at NECC, told Warren she believes what Warren's colleagues told her to be a misconception.

"You have this joke that you're a 'poor and hungry college student,' but students don't even know they're food insecure. It's hard to think how you're doing in your classes if you're thinking about food," said Morin, who not only has used the food pantry services herself, but helps gives back to other students as an AmeriCorps VISTA member.

The college's summer food pantry offers students the opportunity to shop once a week on both campuses in Lawrence and Haverhill, with appointment-based pick-up and delivery options available. There are pre-bagged groceries and essentials based on a shopping list provided and availability. Common items include cereal, pasta, canned tuna, soups, rice, beans, feminine hygiene products and more.

Most of the food comes from Merrimack Valley Food Bank, according to Janel D'Agata-Lynch, the college's coordinator of civic engagement, service learning and community resources. Other items are supplied through donations from private donors or student clubs collecting in-demand goods, D'Agata-Lynch said.

According to the college, 86% of student shoppers say paying for food impacts their studies and classwork. A poll taken by the college reports 55% of returning students say the pantry and market help them worry less about paying for food.

Tiffany Bell, 41, of Haverhill, also takes advantage of the Northern Essex farmers market. A married mother of six children ages 5 to 23, Bell said the food from NECC offers her peace of mind so she can focus on her nursing studies.

"I still have to pay for books, I still have to apply for financial aid. There were times I thought, 'How am I going to do this?'" Bell said. "Without the farmers market, if I didn't have help, things could be tight."

Bell said the groceries provided by the school help bring her family together to make memories when they cook together.

"My kids will help make dessert or cut up tomatoes. They get excited to see what's in the bags when I come home," Bell, set to graduate in July from the college's 10-month accelerated practical nursing program, said. "The food is seasonal and we use everything, which is great."

All students registered in Spring 2021, Summer and Fall 2021 classes are eligible to take advantage of the college's food programs. The next mobile market dates include Wednesday, June 23, Tuesday, July 27 and Tuesday, Aug. 24. Students with questions may contact

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