New lounge and pantry at North Seattle College helps address food insecurity among veterans

Renovations are now complete at the North Seattle College Veterans Center. The upgrades were designed to help veterans in their transition from life as a service member to a college student. It will also be a resource to address food insecurity among college veterans.

"Having a place where you can connect with other veterans and kind of understand where each other comes from, I think is important," said John Biolette, a U.S. Marine veteran and president of the college’s veterans club.

Experiencing a college campus for the first time can be overwhelming for anyone, especially veterans. Biolette is currently a work-study student and remembers what it was like going to North Seattle College right after his time in service.

"Veterans come here and walking around campus may be kind of daunting for the first time. Obviously, we’re older than most of the general students. So, it helps to have someone here that they can relate to," said Biolette.

The college’s newly renovated Veterans Center will offer more opportunities for students to connect with other veterans. The lounge features new computers, more desk space and televisions. The lounge will also host office hours to connect students to a variety of resources, from GI Bill benefits to pay for school to childcare services.

The biggest change was installing a pantry and kitchenette. VetCorps Navigator Chanette Purser-Smith said hunger was affecting several veterans in the classroom.

"I was noticing people weren’t packing lunches and they were skipping some meals, cutting it out. I definitely wanted to help that as food insecurity and feeding people is something I’m really passionate about," said Purser-Smith, a U.S. Navy veteran. "How are you going to learn if you can’t eat and you can’t fuel your brain? I was a chef prior to the Navy, so I’m very passionate about feeding my community and feeding ours."

Some veterans did not know where their next meal would come from. This concern sparked Purser-Smith’s idea for change. She worked with the college and the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs to address food insecurity among service members.

"What else can we do to help students that are being impacted, especially around the holidays? We’re not in class for almost a month. That affects people, that affects if you’re able to eat and pay bills. So I wondered, what can help to alleviate that?" said Purser-Smith.

Those conversations with the college and state resulted in the installation of the pantry and kitchenette. Grant money through the King County government supported the renovation.

Biolette said he believes the lounge and pantry will be a resource to address hunger, ultimately helping improve campus life for veterans.

"We have different life experiences, for sure, which can make coming to school for the first time and having a job a little bit more daunting. So, giving people access to the food pantry so they don’t have to worry about what are they going to do for their next meal for the day kind of eases the stress and helps people focus more on school," said Biolette.

The lounge was designed with veterans in mind—from the artwork displayed, to the coffee they drink…several items in the space were made by and made for military members. Biolette said the upgrades are an improvement from when he first enrolled in the college.

"It was kind of like we had the leftovers of what was left on campus. But now we have a space that’s all our own. We have our own artwork all around, we have a food pantry that can be utilized by veterans. It’s more of a space built for veterans and less of what’s left," said Biolette.

The lounge and pantry is scheduled to officially open during winter quarter. The lounge will be available to student veterans and staff. The pantry will open for veterans on campus and in the community. The future goal is to also open the pantry to the public.

Read more about military services at North Seattle College here

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