Nonprofit supports campus pantry, hopes to boost help for students facing housing, food insecurities

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Kenny Mendoza, leagal affairs representative with the Associated Student Government, tidies up at Barneys Pantry. The MHCC Foundation is supporting the pantry as an increasing number of students are food insecure. Working toward his degree in the information systems and technology management program, Red Burkett was working 25 to 30 hours per week in Portland then rushing back to Gresham to attend classes at Mt. Hood Community College.

His life changed when he was awarded a college scholarship.

Burkett, 33, received $6,545, in two scholarships from the Mt. Hood Community College Foundation, more than $6,000 of it funded by donor Alfonso Torres Vincenzi, a Portland doctor. He also became the financial affairs representative for the college's Associated Student Government. That job comes with a tuition waiver.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Red Burkett, who received a scholarship from the Mt. Hood Community College Foundation, is looking forward to getting a good job with his degree in information systems and technology management. "Getting the scholarship allows me to focus on my school work and work here in student government," he said. "The scholarship is allowing me to pay my rent, insurance on my car, buy groceries."

Scholarships are one of the key functions of the MHCC Foundation, but not the only one.

"The mission of the Foundation is supporting student success by providing monetary support, especially scholarships but also classroom equipment," said Al Sigala, executive director of the Foundation and alumni relations at the college.

The MHCC Foundation's important role in supporting local students striving to better their lives and make meaningful contributions to the local economy is why The Outlook selected the Foundation as one of three local charities to highlight in its Give Local campaign. Through the campaign, The Outlook hopes to drive home "the importance of our readers in donating to local causes."

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Al Sigala, MHCC executive director of the Foundation and alumni relations, oversees the $400,000 in scholarships the foundation awards each year. The foundation distributes about $400,000 in scholarships every year. The money comes from fundraising, annual gifts and the school's $7 million endowment.

Mt. Hood Community College is the state's sixth-largest college and the third-largest community college, serving about 33,000 students. Classes are offered on the main campus at 26000 S.E. Stark St., in Gresham, the Maywood Park Campus, 10100 N.E. Prescott St., in Portland, and other locations.

The school offers 120 associate degree and certificate programs, including the only funeral services degree offered in Oregon.

The scholarships are vital, Sigala said. But he noted that an increasing number of students are having trouble surviving financially, and the Foundation needs to look beyond just scholarships to help students get the education to improve their lives.

"We're seeing more students with housing or food insecurity," Sigala said.

The Foundation is supporting the recently-established Barney's Pantry, a food pantry for MHCC students experiencing hunger. By showing student identification, students can tap the pantry, which stocks hygiene supplies, school supplies and a selection of non-perishable food, three times per week.

"We're working to create an emergency fund" to help students cover unforeseen financial hardships that pop up, Sigala noted.

With housing costs becoming unaffordable in the Portland area, the problems go beyond MHCC.

"The food and housing insecurities are something we as a community need to look at," Sigala said.

The MHCC Foundation keeps its focus on helping students succeed. "What can we do as a Foundation to help students so they can achieve their goals?" he said is the foundational question.

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