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News: Freezer donated to "Brain Food" student food pantry in Oak Ridge

3 individuals standing in front of an open freezer

November 23, 2022

By Bob Fowler
Roane State staff writer

There’s a large new upright freezer in one corner of the Brain Food pantry, the program to provide free food to students at Roane State Community College’s Oak Ridge Branch Campus.

It’s the result of the generosity by one of the college’s partners, First Presbyterian Church of Oak Ridge, and replaces a freezer that “was showing its age,” said Mariella Akers, pantry manager and faculty secretary for the campus.

In October 2019, Brain Food began serving Roane State students. The pantry is located next to the campus dining area and serves approximately 268 students annually.

In a typical week, 40 students visit Brain Food for a variety of fresh, frozen, and canned food in addition to other grocery items.

Akers said the weekly impact extends beyond just those 40 students to an average of 136 people a week when all household members are counted.

“We can now offer our students a greater selection of frozen goods when they get their free groceries,” she added. “We are delighted to have this wonderful new freezer, given by our cherished partners at First Presbyterian Church.”

Roane State also has pantries at the flagship campus in Roane County and the Cumberland County campus.

The pantries are local responses to widespread concerns that many college students are struggling to cover expenses, particularly with rising inflation.

Students have told Akers that the items they regularly get from Brain Food “get them through the week.” The number of students served has doubled since last semester, she said.

Every month, First Presbyterian treasurer and pantry director David Mullins drives a pickup truck to the Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee warehouse in Maryville and returns with some 1,000 pounds of food purchased at a deeply discounted price.

That’s one step in the ongoing program that’s also helped by other partners, from Kroger’s Zero Hunger/Zero Waste effort to contributions from the United Way of Anderson County, Swipe Out Hunger, Oak Ridge Institute for Continued Learning, and other donors.

Students signed up with Brain Food are invited to drop by the pantry on Mondays “and shop like they’re at a store,” Akers said. Most students exit with two large bags of groceries, she said, and they can revisit later in the week too.

Students needing food – either regularly or just on occasion – can contact Brain Food volunteers by emailing Volunteers are ready to open the pantry by appointment for shoppers.

More information on the food pantry effort and how Roane State is working to meet a wide variety of student needs is available on the college’s website at

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