Mercer County Community College continues to address challenges faced by students in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with access to technology, social isolation, and particularly food insecurity topping the list of concerns in a recent student survey.

“This global health crisis has hit all of us hard, particularly our students who faced substantial challenges even before the pandemic,” said MCCC President Dr. Jianping Wang. “We felt it was our responsibility to identify areas of concern, and address needs wherever possible. We are a family, and that’s what families do – help each other in their time of need.”

Following statewide stay-at-home orders and social distancing practices, MCCC’s physical campus was closed, with all college classes and administrative functions shifted to remote platforms. As the social and economic consequences of the quarantine became pronounced, MCCC staff conducted a poll of students to identify needs, concerns, and areas where assistance might be needed.

To assist students with food insecurity issues, Mercer County Community College is distributing supermarket gift cards to those in need.

Nearly 40 percent of students responded that they had no difficulties to report, with 65 percent saying they had adequate technology resources to continue their studies from home. But more than a third reported a lack of technology resources, one-fifth said they could use help making social connections, and 60 percent expressed concern with finances, including the financial resources to obtain food.

“Food insecurity is a very real concern among many students, a concern that had to be addressed immediately for their health and well-being,” Wang said.

MCCC subsequently launched a student assistance program designed to address food, technology, and other issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. To fund the effort, the college tapped the existing Student Activities Fund, an account normally used to underwrite student social events, such as exercise classes, informational seminars, and activity fairs.

MCCC Senior Executive Assistant Beth Knight said addressing the food issue was an immediate priority in light of the loss of employment among many students, and with limited access and dwindling supplies at local food pantries. To date, the college has distributed more than 100 grocery store gift cards to students, which they can receive electronically or by mail.

“The survey results indicate that almost all students or a family member lost their job,” Knight said. “This leads to food insecurity, and issues with other basic human needs. You never know the path one is forced to take, or the seemingly insurmountable odds they are fighting daily.”

In addition MCCC, through a partnership with TDI Connect (formerly Trenton Digital Initiative), has provided free computers to more than 50 students during the pandemic, enabling them to continue their studies via remote platforms. TDI, part of United Way of Greater Mercer County, collects outdated computers, refurbishes them, and distributes them free of charge in underserved communities. The college is also taking requests for webcams for students with older computers.

MCCC has also helped address social isolation issues through virtual student activities, webinars, workshops, and counseling sessions. Knight said she has received numerous notes of thanks from students receiving assistance, something that reminds her that the college is making a difference.

“There are no words to tell you how appreciative they are,” Knight said. “I thought I had heard it all in my office during years of student visits, but I guess not. This is truly a humbling experience.”

MCCC students seeking assistance can contact Knight at specialcircumstances@mccc.edu.