It’s fair to say that David Mariani takes student hunger very seriously. “It doesn’t matter what year they are in the program or if they even have a program specifically,” said David. “If they’re just taking one class, I don’t care, they are welcome to come visit me and get some free food, because my motto is ‘to succeed in life, you need to know two words: free food.’ That’s my purpose here; to make sure that students get stuff that they need to succeed in school.”
David is the Montana Campus Compact AmeriCorps Leader at Great Falls College Montana State University. In that role, he wears a lot of hats, but perhaps none more impactful than his role as the supervisor for GFC MSU’s student food pantry. The food pantry has existed for several years; longer than David has even worked at the college, but it’s undergone an important transformation under his leadership.
“There used to be a rule that you could come in twice a month for a maximum of 50 pounds of food per month,” Mariani explained “I have changed the rules a little bit. They’re still limited to 50 pounds per month, but I have done away with the two visits per month restriction because it’s too difficult for students to get 25 pounds of food twice per month. I am more focused on getting people in regularly if they want to come in once a week, if they want to come in every other day, that is up to them. I’m trying to make sure that they have access to what works for them and what they need and not just me sending them off with what I think they should be eating.”
The food comes from donations made by students, faculty and staff at the college, as well as the Great Falls Community Food Bank and even donations from the public. David says it’s made a big impact in the lives of a lot of students. He says they shouldn’t have to choose between paying the bills or buying food. Ever.
The campus is quieter than usual right now thanks to the pandemic sending some students to virtual classes, but David says that the strenuous circumstances that have come with this pandemic are still driving more people to the food pantry.
“Things get a little bit quiet in the summertime and it’ll be a little bit quieter now that we’re about to enter the intersession,” he said. “Without students on campus, it’s difficult. This semester that we’re just ending now, it’s difficult because of the limited number of students on campus, but we’ve actually been building up our regular visitors and we’ve actually had more visitors all together than the pantry has gotten in years. Partly because of the pandemic but partly also because of awareness.”
That, David says, is one of his biggest challenges: awareness. The food in this pantry is available to every student that steps foot on GFC MSU’s campus. That’s regardless of what year, program, or course load they have.
Mariani says that his motto is “to succeed in life, you need to know two words: free food.” During a pandemic, it certainly can’t hurt.
While campus is currently closed to the public, anyone who wants to donate food to the pantry is allowed to stop by and speak with someone at the front desk, granted they wear a mask while inside.
“Unfortunately, since we are closed to the public at the moment, your best bet would probably be to stop by the front desk, the help desk in the atrium, and we have some cool folks over at the help desk,” David said with a smile. “They are great about getting food to me. They have access to the pantry themselves, and they will sometimes just take the light work out of transporting. I sometimes just go into the pantry and there’s a box of food waiting for me.”
David says that person or business who wants to donate food to the pantry that doesn’t want to stop by the college can call him at 406-771-4302 and he will come pick up donations.