DCTC Receives $6,000 Open Your Heart Grant

Funds support efforts to eliminate student food insecurity

In July 2021, Dakota County Technical College received $6,000 in funding through Open Your Heart to the Hungry and Homeless to expand available food options and improve access to meet the needs of DCTC students. Open Your Heart helps hungry and homeless people in crisis situations. The organization has been targeting donations to help hungry and homeless Minnesotans since 1986.

“We believe that if our students know that they will always have access to healthy, readily available food at DCTC, it will create an improved sense of student belonging and connectedness, which is defined in our overall strategic plan for the college,” said Anne Johnson, DCTC vice president of student affairs.

Anne is one of many college employees who have supported the on-campus Food Pantry through donations to help meet student needs. Approximately 2,000 students attend DCTC, and this hunger-alleviation project, funded by the Open Your Heart grant, will support those students who are facing short-term and long-term food insecurity.

Prior to receiving this funding, DCTC provided nonperishable food items to students donated by The Open Door and members of the campus community. The Open Door is a hunger-relief organization based in Dakota County making fresh and healthy food available to more than 14,000 people each month through its combination of a bricks-and-mortar food shelf and a collection of neighborhood-based programs. The Open Door was recognized as the 2021 DCTC/Inver Hills Community Partner of the Year.

“Students find studying and learning difficult when they are hungry,” said Anna Voight, DCTC associate director of student life. “According to the 2018 #RealCollege Survey prepared by the Hope Center at Temple University, one in three DCTC students can be considered food insecure. The survey showed more than 40 percent of DCTC students of color were food insecure compared to 28 percent of white students. Eliminating food insecurity in our student body is imperative as we work toward eliminating the equity gap by 2025.”

Leo Moananu: Student perspective…

Leo Moananu

Originally from Rochester, New York, Leo Moananu, 37, is majoring in Architectural Technology at DCTC. Leo serves as a student ambassador at the college. He also works at the Food Pantry and understands how important good nutrition is in the quest for academic success.

“I grew up in low-income housing in my early childhood—and poverty was all around my neighborhood,” Leo said. “If it wasn’t for county food programs, we would have gone hungry.”

Leo added that being a part of the DCTC Food Pantry is a way to pay it forward.

“Outside of the Food Pantry I volunteer at my local food shelf,” he related. “So many of us have different options for food to choose from, and that’s awesome, but I always remind myself that some people either don’t get an option or don’t get food in general. So that pushes me to do good in making sure that people and students are fed.”

Leo Moananu
Architectural Technology Major
Student Ambassador
Dakota County Technical College

More about the Open Your Heart grant funds…

DCTC has used the funds to purchase the following:

  1. An industrial-grade refrigerator/freezer to provide perishable food to students
  2. Coolers to transport perishable food from The Open Door to campus
  3. Shelving units on caster wheels so they can be moved to different locations on campus to expand access to food
  4. Enough shelving units to avoid using top shelves to increase access for students with physical disabilities

A need for these items was identified through the college’s robust continuous improvement process for student food support, which includes getting feedback from a variety of constituents.

“Through our process of getting feedback from constituents, we learned that students needed items we were not able to provide without the addition of a refrigerator/freezer,” Associate Director Voight said. “Additionally, we had previously been limiting the number of times students could pick up food to twice per week. Through feedback provided by the Student Senate, we learned that some students were planning in advance which days during the week they would pick up food to eat. After learning that, we removed the limit on how many times students could pick up food each week. We remain committed to adapting to the needs of our students and continuously improving the support we provide them.”

Anna reported that Anne Johnson, Nicole Meulemans, student support services and development director, Chris Tran, resources navigator, Amy Eppen, foundation development director, and the Student Senate were instrumental in the Open Your Heart grant application process.

“Eliminating food insecurity among students is a widely supported goal among faculty, staff, students, and community partners alike,” Anna said. “DCTC began offering coordinated food support options for students in 2013, with a focus on continuous improvement to ensure student needs are met. Inver Hills Community College has helped us a lot in developing our programs to fight food insecurity. A variety of DCTC departments have joined the campus-wide effort to provide food support.”

LeadMN Hunger Free Campus¹

In May 2020, DCTC was designated a Hunger Free Campus through LeadMN and will be officially awarded the designation at an all-employee meeting October 6, 2021.

A Hunger Free Campus:

A Hunger Free Campus is a Minnesota State community and/or technical college that is actively taking strides to reduce food insecurity amongst students. In order to be awarded the Hunger Free Campus designation, a campus must meet the following minimum criteria:

  • Has a food pantry, partnership with a food bank, or some type of food distribution system on campus available to students.
  • Has a designated staff person on campus to educate students on SNAP and other public services aimed to reduce food insecurity
    • The institution shall notify students in work-study employment of their potential eligibility for SNAP benefits and provide information to those students that includes eligibility criteria and how to apply for benefits.
  • Provides emergency funds to assist students who may be experiencing basic needs insecurity.
  • Has a task force dedicated to addressing food insecurity concerns.
  • Hosts or participates in at least one hunger awareness event each year.
Colleges must also reapply for the designation every four years.

More about the Food Pantry at DCTC…

Leo Moananu at work in Food Pantry

Free food is available for students in the Food Pantry. The Open Door provides the majority of the pantry’s food items along with donations from faculty, staff, and alumni.

Stop by the Food Pantry!

  • Help yourself to a variety of fresh, frozen, and non-perishable food items.
  • Pick up food to eat while on campus or take home.
  • Please to sign in each visit.
  • Need an item the Food Pantry doesn’t have?

Food Pantry gallery

Student Homelessness and Basic Needs Insecurity

by Staff WritersBest Colleges • Published September 29, 2021
  • Around 3 in 5 college students faced some form of basic needs insecurity in 2020.
  • Two-year college students consistently report higher rates of housing and food insecurity.
  • Those at highest risk of basic needs insecurity include LGBTQ+ and Indigenous students.
  • Students experiencing homelessness still can get federal financial aid for college.
Learn more about the Open Your Heart grant, the LeadMN Hunger Free Campus designation, and the Food Pantry at DCTC by contacting:
Associate Director of Student Life