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Meeting Students' Basic Needs

The 2019 Hope Center #RealCollege survey affirms what has been evident to college administrators, faculty, staff and students for years: basic needs insecurity is a condition challenging many undergraduates pursuing credentials. When basic needs are not met, such as food, housing and transportation, it can impact a student’s grades, attendance, mental health and so much more. We also know that student parents – of which there are many at Bristol – are more likely to experience basic needs insecurity.

To compound this issue, federal financial aid has changed dramatically. While maximum Pell awards used to cover most of the cost of college and living expenses, they now cover less than 30%.

Enter Bristol’s Basic Needs Center, created to help students thrive academically by ensuring they can afford food and costs associated with housing, transportation, wellness and unexpected personal needs. It helps students avoid stark choices, such as buying groceries instead of a book for class.

“If students don’t buy a book because they don’t have the money, they’ll likely fall behind and struggle in class,” said Elizett Pires, Senior Special Programs Coordinator, Student and Family Engagement. “That will impact them academically and have a domino effect on their ability to be successful.”

Last year, the center secured a $180,000 grant of American Rescue Plan Act money, through the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, to support and expand the college’s Hunger Free Bristol: Feeding for Success Program.

The grant will purchase a total of $143,000 in supermarket gift cards for students in need. In addition, the funds are providing reusable tote bags for the drive-through Bristol Mobile Food Market, which distributes free, pre-packed bags of fresh fruit, vegetables and dairy products to students, faculty, staff and community members. The food is supplied by the Greater Boston Food Bank.

Many Bristol students would struggle to complete their studies without support. The HOPE Center’s survey indicated that 64% of the college’s students experienced at least one form of basic needs insecurity in the year prior. And Pires said the need has only intensified since the start of the pandemic.

Inflation, job loss and higher electric bills draw 500 people a month to the Mobile Food Market, up from 350 to 400, she said. The number includes 100 Bristol students, but Pires knows the need is much greater. The grocery gift card program will help fill that gap, helping students uncomfortable with or unable to take advantage of the drive-through market.

Students can receive gift cards worth $100 to $280 a month to augment Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) support. The cards are for use at Hannaford, Stop & Shop, Trucchi’s, Market Basket, Price Rite, Aldi and Shaw’s located near Bristol’s four campuses. Students can shop for the items they need and the foods their families prefer.

“We want to make it as easy as possible for students, especially if they rely on walking or taking public transportation to and from the grocery store,” Pires said.

The center also offers $10 meal vouchers to Epicurean Feast, the food service provider at the Fall River Campus, and relaunched its grab-and-go meal program for students at all campuses.

“Basic needs insecurity challenges many undergraduates pursuing credentials,” Pires said. “The scope of the problem is substantial. If we can address basic needs to enable students to stay here and be successful, it will help them long term.”

How You Can Help

The CARE Fund, managed by the Bristol Community College Foundation, is designed to offset short-term financial needs for students experiencing specific setbacks that may prevent them from continuing their education at Bristol Community College. To donate to the CARE Fund, visit