It started with a Giving Tree – but assistance efforts at Columbia-Greene Community College have grown to be much more than that in the last six years.
In fact, what’s now loosely known as the Giving Closet is more of an idea than an actual place, offering resources and assistance across campus to both students and the community-at-large year-round.
Dawn Defino, Assistant Professor of Human Services and Psychology, said the Giving Tree, which collects holiday gifts for community members in need, and Operation Turkey Drop – which collects and distributes food baskets to students and their families for home-cooked Thanksgiving meals – started as projects taken on by the Human Services Club, but soon grew in both size and scope.
“This year, because these programs continue to grow in need, we have enlisted volunteers from multiple clubs and various disciplines, including Criminal Justice, Political Science, and the Student Senate,” she said, noting that Operation Turkey Drop fed a dozen families last year and the Giving Tree helped 75 people.
Need doesn’t subside after the holidays, however, and what started as a seasonal project has now become a permanent, vibrant aspect of the C-GCC campus. An open food pantry is now maintained by the Student Activities office, for instance, offering non-perishable food items for any student who needs to grab a quick breakfast, lunch, or food for the weekend.
A coat closet supplies new, unworn winter coats collected from donations to any students in need as soon as the weather cools – no questions asked – and a personal products closet is kept stocked where students can ‘shop’ privately for any necessities they may need on either a one-time or on-going basis. On rainy days, complimentary umbrellas appear in the foyers, with signs encouraging students take one to get to-and-from classes more comfortably. When it snows, those umbrellas are replaced with window scrapers and brushes for a safe ride home.
After learning of a growing need among both student-pet owners and community members – particularly senior citizens – to have temporary support caring for their pets, the C-GCC Animal Advocates Club extended the Giving Closet even farther, establishing a pet food pantry.
Nicole Childrose, assistant professor of History and advisor to the Animal Advocates Club, explained that expanding C-GCC’s Giving Closet to include pet supplies created an alternative for families who may face surrendering a pet due to economic difficulties.
“Some help with food and supplies for a week or month allows a person to keep their pet at home rather than being forced to give it up to a shelter,” she said, noting that students, faculty and staff routinely donate pet food and supplies such as blankets, bowls, leashes and toys.
All of the Giving Closet’s inventory is donated by students, staff, faculty, and administration, or purchased with funds raised through various student-lead events. And as the campus’ assistance efforts continue to grow, so does the number of people involved to help new programs take root.
Sarah Petrak is a student assistant with the Office of Communications and New Media for SUNY System Administration. She is a studying Public Policy at the University at Albany.