Talon’s Market helps TCC students facing food insecurity
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
When Gerald Jones became the dean of student services at Tallahassee Community College, he inherited plans for setting up a food pantry to feed students who faced food insecurity.
A $10,000 donation from Wal-Mart helped to turn the idea into reality as Talon’s Market. Jones embraced the project and went into it without hesitation.
Statics had told him how serious the problem is for college students.
“That is a barrier that we see that we have an establishment that we can help students,” he said. “It’s hard to be in class and then worry about where you’re going to get your next meal from.
“When students come into these doors they are coming into something and leaving with more than what they came in with.”
Talon’s Market is stocked with a variety of can and packaged food. It also provides men and women hygiene products and some refrigerated goods.
On Oct. 26, the food pantry will celebrate one year of being on TCC’s campus.
Don Thompson, a first-year student, said he gets food and other items from the pantry at least twice each month.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s a great way to keep morale up high.”
However, the coronavirus pandemic brought a bit of change for Thompson and other students who relied on the free food. Campuses around the state were forced to shut down for most of the spring semester.
“When COVID came, it was a dark time,” Thompson said.
At that point, the TCC Foundation took on a drive that secured $6,000 in gift cards. The cards were given to students to use at restaurants and grocery stores, Jones aid.
Florida Blue recently donated $10,000 for the market. It’s also supported through money raise from TCC’s Support Our Students Fund, a program that allows online giving.
In addition to providing food through the market, student services also has the Eagle Relief Fund that helps students with rent and transportation.
“We have discovered that these students have real needs,” Jones said. “They are real problems. Food insecurity is just one of the problems.”
One of the discoveries that Jones has made since arriving at TCC 18 months ago is that the college is in the 32304 zip code, which the Florida Chamber of Commerce identified as the poorest zip code in the state. Additionally, 33 percent of college students in the state are living with food insecurity.
Statistics also show that more than 40 percent of TCC students come from low income homes.
That presents a challenge that Jones wants to reduce through the services that TCC provides for students with needs.
“We just want to be able defuse any barriers as it relates to what students may need that may hinder their academic progress,” he said.
Yet, some are apprehensive about using the pantry although they are able to sign up for what they need online.
“It kind of destigmatizes the whole nature of being known; who is watching you coming to get something free,” Jones said. “We’ve kind of reduced the shame and reduced the embarrassment.”
One of the requirements for students who use Talon’s Market is that they don’t go more than six times each semester. That is overseen by Jayla Nickeo, student manager of the market.
Every time she packs bags for students, she empathizes with them, she said. Many often are grateful for the service.
“I’ve had students come back and thanked me personally for being able to provide this for them because they didn’t know how they were going to eat,” Nickeo said.