Written by Stefano Mancini, Bill Emerson Congressional Hunger Center Fellow with The Greater Boston Food Bank.

With over 15,000 students, Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC) is the state’s largest community college and enrolls international students representing nearly 100 countries. As you walk into BHCC’s Charlestown campus, you’ll notice the size immediately, with sprawling hallways leading to libraries and labs filled with students on the go in conversation or sitting on a bench with their heads in a book.  

Named after its mission, Delivering Information, Sustenance, and Health to BHCC, DISH is one of the Commonwealth’s longest-standing college student hunger and basic needs programs, stemming from one of The Greater Boston Food Bank’s first partnerships to address college hunger. The Hunger-Free Campus Initiative, created and advanced through legislative and budget campaigns by the MA Hunger Free Campus Coalition, co-led by The Greater Boston Food Bank, has enabled DISH to expand their temperature-controlled lockers to the Chelsea campus last year. This improvement allows students to pick up food outside of DISH’s open hours and to increase the availability of healthy frozen meals thanks to Cambridge-based food recovery organization and The Greater Boston Food Bank partner, Food For Free.  

BHCC is a member of the MA Hunger Free Campus Coalition and one of 27 public and minority-serving institutions of higher education in Massachusetts that received funds from the legislature in 2022, through the MA Hunger Free Campus Initiative. The Massachusetts Hunger-Free Campus Coalition, founded in 2019 and led by The Greater Boston Food Bank, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, works to advance legislative and budget campaigns to permanently establish and fund the Initiative. Currently, the Coalition is advocating for $2 million in the FY25 state budget for the Initiative, building upon previous state funding, and to pass an Act establishing the Hunger Free Campus Initiative (S835 / H1293). The legislation is sponsored by Representative Andy Vargas (D-Haverhill) and Senator Joan Lovely (D-Salem). 

BHCC student leaders and DISH pantry staff with refrigerated food lockers, an investment supported by the Hunger Free Campus Initiative.

DISH’s operations on the ground are almost exclusively student-run, with the support of the pantry management team, including Chelsea Alexander, Will Cribby, and Emery Spooner. The blend of domestic students, international students, and professional support staff in the student basic needs team, including Hunger-Free Campus Coalition steering committee member Kathleen O’Neill, gives students valuable work experience in a diverse, multicultural environment. At BHCC, there is no stigma in using the food pantry – only students working with other students to ensure that everyone has what they need to fuel their educational dreams. 

The Hunger Free Campus Initiative makes this great work possible. Dr. Pam Eddinger, President of BHCC, testified in support of the Hunger-Free Campus Initiative at a September 2023 hearing, remarking, “My students are too often hungry and too often compromising on nutrition and too often forced to make choices between food and other essentials like rent, transportation, or books. They don’t have enough to eat to do all the things they need to do to succeed.” Hunger-Free Campus funding allows BHCC and DISH to meet the needs of students, and BHCC’s administrators and students have called upon the Legislature to maintain these vital funds for state universities, community colleges, and minority-serving institutions. 

Due to citizenship status, many BHCC students aren’t able to access federal nutrition programs like SNAP, but they still have great need – some students even visit DISH daily. DISH student leader Javkhlan Batsaikhan, also known as Jay, the Student Government President, says that “students all know hunger is happening, but we don’t want to talk about it. You can spend thousands of dollars on books, those have a direct correlation with your education. But with food, you can skip it now, but you’ll pay for it later.”  

BHCC is making a difference as the state’s largest community college as a leader in student involvement, program evaluation, and creative ideas to increase access to food. Through activating students leaders to advance policy change with Hunger Free Campus Initiative and supporting student basic needs assistance, BHCC is fueling student success every day. 

DISH food pantry at Bunker Hill Community College.
Categories: Impact