Clark University and Jeremiah’s Inn have entered into a partnership that is designed to help meet the pressing challenge of food insecurity on campus and in the broader Worcester community.
The agreement offers a unique opportunity for Clark and Jeremiah’s Inn to collaborate on a strategy that addresses the needs of students and Worcester residents who do not have access to a consistent source of food in their daily lives. With financial support from Clark, Jeremiah’s Inn will fill the food pantry needs of Clark students, while also creating a pipeline of employment opportunities for student workers who will assist with the food pantry’s operations.
Kamala Kiem, associate provost for student success and dean of students at Clark, said the partnership was pursued at the insistence of the student-led organization FIRM (Food Insecurity Resistance Movement), which challenged the University to find a sustainable pathway for easing food insecurity both at Clark and in the Main South neighborhood.
“FIRM elevated the issue of food insecurity in an assertive, grassroots way, and rightfully held us accountable to do more for our students,” Kiem said. “Through this terrific partnership with Jeremiah’s Inn and our students, we’re able to deliver a more sustainable food program in a systemic way that speaks to what we do best at Clark: Take on a real-world problem and work to find a solution.
“I continue to be impressed with our students’ agency, and their energy and focus, which inspired us to do something impactful that serves Clark students and the community. I think that’s the definition of a win-win.”
Domenica Perrone, director of community engagement and volunteering, helped facilitate the partnership with Jeremiah’s Inn in conjunction with FIRM representatives.
“FIRM was instrumental in bringing the issue of food insecurity to the attention of Clark’s administration; the group operated and managed a food pantry on campus since the summer of 2020 and have boldly advocated for resources,” said Perrone.
Perrone said that President David Fithian provided funding for the FIRM Clark food pantry last year, and the University administered a Swipe Out Hunger program and created an emergency fund to address the issue.
“After intentional conversations with community leaders, we explored the pathway of identifying a community partner to align our needs with local strategies around food insecurity,” said Joseph Corazzini, Clark’s vice president of government and community affairs.
“Through this partnership we are able to work with an existing organization by providing financial resources that both assist Clark’s needs as well as the community partner. While we know much more will be needed, we are excited to partner with the Food Justice Roundtable to continue tackling food insecurity on campus,” said Corazzini.
This summer, the University’s newly formed Food Security Taskforce — co-led by the Office of Community Engagement & Volunteering and FIRM — reviewed proposals from several local food pantries to determine which community partner offered the best opportunity for Clark’s students. Perrone said Clark ultimately chose Jeremiah’s Inn because their food pantry offered flexible hours of operation, is located just off the WRTA bus line, and can accommodate the 80 students who had demonstrated a need for services.
Erin Quaiel, Nutrition Center coordinator at Jeremiah’s Inn, has arranged for a day each week when Clark students can have exclusive access to the food pantry, in addition to being able to access the pantry on days it is open to the public. “While forging this partnership I came to realize that food insecurity is an issue on every college campus,” Quaiel said. “Jeremiah’s Inn is lucky to play a role in mitigating this issue at Clark.”
According to Quaiel food insecurity also involves the inability to cook certain foods, not being familiar with foods from different cultures, and a lack of access to healthy foods.
On Monday, September 18 (the College Hunger Day of Awareness), Perrone and Angel Rojas ’25, an active member of FIRM who serves as co-chair of the Food Security TaskForce; Corazzini, and Carla Orellana, associate director of community engagement and volunteering, are heading to the Massachusetts State House to stand in solidarity with others who advocate for those who are food insecure. Also in attendance will be Senator Robyn Kennedy (D-First Worcester District), whose Hunger Free Campus Initiative (H.1293/S.835) will be heard before the Joint Committee on Higher Education. If passed, the legislation will establish the Massachusetts Hunger-Free Campus Initiative, which would provide capacity, guidance, and funding to public colleges and not-for-profit institutions of higher education to alleviate food insecurity on campus.
“Food insecurity has been exacerbated by the pandemic for many in our community, including our college students. As students enter their third week of classes, we must ensure we are providing them with adequate tools for success,” Kennedy said.
Rojas volunteered to testify at the State House about managing with food insecurity and advocating for the Clark student community; today they are advocating for resources to address food insecurity on college campuses across the state.
“The students involved in FIRM continue to advocate for our community on the issue of food insecurity, both on-campus and off-campus, through multiple avenues, such the Food security TaskForce and club community outreach efforts,” said Rojas, who noted that partnerships with food pantries are only a temporary solution. “Ultimately, the nature of FIRM’s new partnership with Jeremiah’s Inn is to address the symptom of a much larger and systemic issue which is poverty on college campuses and beyond. The future of FIRM’s real work lies in advocating for systemic changes.”