By Daniel Yanez
Layout & Design Editor
Despite the fact that the college is nestled in northeast Texas, a rural and rather “not so bustling area,” Northeast Texas Community College continues to grow in student population and diversity, attracting many students from across the state, nation and the world.
However, as the college continues to expand, the demand for student services has also grown. One in particular, is weekend food service. For some students obtaining food to last for the weekend is simple, for several others it’s no easy task.
Jo’s Coffee Shop, a community-based business, and Center Church in Mount Pleasant, have partnered to offer a meal opportunity with students who stay on campus through the weekends. Together, both are working to provide students with a free lunch each Sunday.
Currently, NTCC’s contract for student meals with Great Western Dining does not include a weekend meal plan. With classes finishing up by noon on Friday, food service for the week also ends after lunch on Fridays.
As student housing enrollment numbers have grown over the past few years, several groups, organizations and individuals across campus have looked for ways to feed students on the weekends. Food trucks have been considered, a food pantry was discussed and the Wesleyan Methodist Organization brought smokers to the dorm parking lot and cooked for students a couple of times last spring.
Northeast Student Services Adviser and Recruiting Specialist, Alex Ortega, was one of those concerned that students were going without weekend meals and decided to take it one step further.
Ortega, a member of Center Church, reached out to Jeffery Crabb, one of the founders of the church, and the two came up with a plan to provide a weekend meal for dorm students on Sunday.
“I knew that there was a need out there for students,” said Ortega. “I know that some of them can’t afford to get out and go. Some of them don’t even have cars. This is just by talking to them on a daily basis. I’m an adviser here and I meet a lot of people, and that’s one of the things that they talk about the most. I knew with the connection with Center Church and Jeffery and Jo’s that we could make it happen.”
Ortega says his main motivation for organizing this event is his faith in God and the need he sees for the students. “Essentially at the beginning, God basically put it together,” said Ortega. “I was on the way home one day thinking about how I could get involved, and sure enough I received a text message from Jeffery, and I was thinking how can we reach out to college students.”
On a regular day, Ortega spends his time in the administration building advising students on degree plans and course selections, and it was while he was helping them that he learned about some of the obstacles they sometimes face while living on campus. One of those problems was finding food on the weekends.
After talking with Northeast adviser and former Director of Housing, Damien Williams, and Vice-President of Student Services Dr. Johnny Moore, Ortega and Crabb decided to move forward with the plan. “He loved the idea. He [Moore] said go forward and conquer, he gave us a blessing. So here we are,” said Ortega.
Moving forward with the idea, Crabb and Ortega saw a need , however, to do more than just feed students.“What we’ve seen is organizations come in and just feed, and that’s not our goal,” said Crabb. “We want to feed them, but also much more get to know them and love them and take care of them in any way we can. Our plan is to have different meals every week,” he added. “We’ve got our hospitality team set up on a rotation schedule where they will be putting together different meals every week and it’ll be at no cost to the students.”
Iesha Fluellen, a Northeast dorm student from Gilmer, said she appreciates the generosity and commitment from Jo’s and Center Church.
“I’m excited someone actually decided to do this. It’s good for all of the dorm students, a lot of them can’t drive anywhere, they’re just kind of stuck here on campus,” said Fluellen. “We don’t get meals on the weekend, so this is something that’s really good, and I’m happy that they’re willing to do this. It’s very generous and very nice. I hope that one day I can do that for somebody, little stuff that you do can have a big impact on somebody’s life. Here at the dorms, even though it’s one meal for the weekend, it’s still something, it still means a lot to us.”
Crabb and Ortega said they are also making plans for possible activities in the near future. Other than simply providing students with food, the group said they hope to establish bonds with the students and do much more than just give them a free meal.
“We wanted to use this opportunity to get to know students and establish relationships and kind of open the door to introduce them to Jo’s. Jo’s is just a cool place open to the community, college students and everyone,” said Crabb. “At some point, depending on how things progress, we’ll start what we’ve talked about calling a college night, where we might have a special at Jo’s for students with their student ID cards.”
Leah Crabb, Jeffery’s wife and a former Northeast nursing student, is one of the Center Church members that came out to help serve food. She said it’s a great way to build relationships with the on-campus students.
“I look forward to getting to know some of the students and knowing that most of them are on-campus students who don’t really leave campus during the weekend, so us being able to come out and serve them in this small way, and bringing them food, is just a great way to get to meet them and make relationships with them,” said Leah Crabb.
Assisting with student relations is also Jo’s barista and Center Church member, Zack Rolf, an NTCC student. He said he hopes the partnership between Jo’s and Center Church will introduce the dorm students to community and establish a sense of family between both parties.
“Our goal right now is just to come out and provide a meal,” said Rolf. “Everything we do is for the community, and we want to give the college students an outlet for community.”
Christian Cramm, a Northeast Eagles soccer player from San Antonio said, “It’s a great way to bring people together. From what I see lots of people are coming, lots of people are able to socialize. It’s free food, who wouldn’t want to come?”
Overall, Ortega and other community members saw the need and urgency of the issue and decided to take action. What started as one person’s effort to feed students quickly turned into a community effort to do more than just provide food for students on the weekend.
Instead, they’re bringing the community and the college students together. “We just knew we had to act quick,” said Ortega. “We knew the need had to be filled quick for the students.”
Northeast Vice President of Student Advancement Dr. Jonathan McCullough said he wasn’t really too surprised that Jo’s and Center Church are reaching out to NTCC students.
“We’re blessed to live in the type of community where so many of our friends have these concerns where they’re willing to help out these students,” McCullough said. “You just don’t see that happening in very many places. It’s just one more great example the Northeast Texas area.”