HCC Opens Innovative New Market

Holyoke Community College’s Homestead Market becomes the first on-campus store in the state to accept SNAP/EBT benefits.

Holyoke Community College celebrated the opening of its Homestead Market last week with hunger-relief advocates, state legislators, food vendors, and students in attendance. This store will be the first of its kind in the state; an on-campus market with pantry essentials, produce, and premade meals—all of which students can purchase with SNAP benefits.

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Student speaker Luis-Pinto Jimenez (right) exiting the Frost building where the Homestead Market is located, carrying his first purchase from the market. Accompanying him are WRSI's Monte Belmonte and Food Bank Executive Director Andrew Morehouse.

The innovative idea of creating an EBT enabled market at the college started in 2018, when the Student Senate identified addressing food insecurity on campus as a necessary priority for the school. The administration agreed, with College President Dr. Royal taking the position that, “if we’re going to be about academic excellence, we have to then focus on the foundational levels that help support students, so they are in a position where they are able to succeed academically.”

Laura Sylvester, Public Policy Manager at The Food Bank spoke at the event, saying that the approach HCC is taking to address hunger with its own market is a model that other Commonwealth colleges and universities should follow. As members of The MA Hunger Free Campus Coalition, both HCC and The Food Bank are working on passing bills through the Massachusetts legislature that would provide funding to colleges taking concrete measures to address food insecurity on campus.

“In addition to encouraging schools to offer markets like Homestead, there are provisions for student meal sharing programs, emergency funds to address other basic needs like housing and childcare, student-led hunger taskforces and so much more.”

-Laura Sylvester, Public Policy Manager at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts

Multiple Western Massachusetts legislators attended the event and voiced their support for both the market itself and college hunger-relief initiatives on the state level. Representative John C. Velis of the 4th Hampden District stated, “the ability to eat is absolutely synonymous with getting an education.”

Rep. Mindy Domb of the 3rd Hampshire District and sponsor of the House college hunger-relief legislature, added, “whatever money we’re putting on the front end into community colleges, and public higher education for that matter, totally gets sucked out by hunger— and if we don’t address it, we’re just throwing money in the toilet. …and we’re also treating our students like they can be thrown away.”

At the close of the event, two HCC students took part in a ribbon cutting ceremony, officially welcoming guests to the Homestead Market. Chris Coburn and Luis Pinto-Jimenez, both actively involved in the work of the campus student support powerhouse The Thrive Center, shared some of their experiences with food insecurity while at school.  Coburn expressed his thanks for the Thrive Center for providing SNAP application assistance and brought up how this new market is particularly impactful to him as a diabetic student. “Having access to food is very important to me to stay healthy and focus on classes,” he stated.

Pinto-Jimenez followed Coburn by similarly expressing his gratitude and added that as a student without his own transportation, “it’s very helpful to have a store where I can actually go and get my groceries.”

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Luis Pinto-Jimenez and Chris Coburn cutting the ribbon to open the Homestead market, accompanied by President Dr. Royal, Food Bank Executive Director Andrew Morehouse, and Representatives Pat Duffy and John C. Velis.

To ensure the critical work of addressing college hunger continues to move forward, The Hunger Free Campus initiative is encouraging constituents to contact their legislators to voice their support for the bills in process. Additionally, students interested in joining the coalition or starting a chapter on their own campus can reach out to Molly Kepner (mkepner@gbfb.org) and Laura Sylvester (lauras@foodbankwma.org) to learn more.