By Olivia Montes
Since its opening in 2019, the George’s Free General Store, under the management of the Washington College’s Hunger & Homelessness Initiative, has strived to spread awareness about and destigmatize myths surrounding the eponymous issues across both the campus and Chestertown communities.
Now, as of Sept. 15, the College announced via campus-wide email that the store, along with the H&H Initiative, located close to the Goose Nest in Hodson Hall, will be open for the 2021-2022 academic year.
According to Associate Director of the Office of Student Financial Aid and the H&H Initiative Co-Chair Erneatka Webster, while the COVID-19 pandemic did cause the store to temporarily close this past year, it will continue “to educate the community on awareness of food insecurities and homelessness,” while abiding by COVID-19 safety protocols enforced by the College.
“It is our job as the committee and community to help because our students, our staff and our faculty are all part of the WC family, and when you see your family struggle, what do you do — help,” Webster said.
The H&H Initiative, which sponsors the Free General Store seeks to provide “fertile ground to approach disparity with creativity, thrift, and generosity,” as well as “create a pattern of living in which essential provisions for health and basic sustenance are accessible to everyone,” according to Interim Director of Sustainability and Regenerative Living Shane Brill ’03.
“The same cultural belief in separation that isolates us from the web of life also leads to fractures in our collective and personal wellbeing,” Brill said. “The H&H Initiative helps us step toward creating a culture of inclusion, a society in which being a vibrant and healthy human being is an inalienable right. We can achieve social and environmental justice by imagining the world we want to inhabit, creating it, and living in it.”
After a virtual college experience throughout the 2020-21 academic year, under the support of the Office of Student Affairs, the H&H Initiative initiated its first committee charter, determined to come back “to educate and support the student [and] campus community,” according to junior and Student Chair of the Initiative Maegan White.
“[We’ve] noticed how, in a post-COVID-19 world, we are going to see intensified hunger and homelessness issues because of the economic impact it had,” White said. “We will do what we can to make sure that we’re supporting all the students and then carry that same energy and momentum and support resources into the coming years.”
The Initiative also plans to partner with the Aunt Flow menstrual movement to distribute menstruation products in select locations across the College campus.
Additional projects and plans include collaborating with clubs and organizations across WC and in the surrounding Chestertown are — including the Food Recovery Network, Rotaract Club, and the Women’s Club; working with the Student Events Board to encourage students attending campus-wide events to donate canned goods or hygiene items for the store; and advocating for a larger sign advertising the location of the store on the first floor of Hodson Hall Commons.
The Initiative also encourages WC students, staff, and faculty members alike to donate as much as they can.
According to the store’s website, while donations can be made throughout the year, the store also has a list of top items in need, including: animal products, such as canned anchovies, tuna, and salmon; plant products, including canned artichokes, organic popcorn, and vegetable broth; fats, such as aged cheese, coconut milk, and olive oil; dried fruit; nuts and seeds; chocolate; and sweeteners, including raw honey and maple syrup.
Additional items to consider donating include: beverages, such as organic coffee and tea; boxed goods, including breakfast cereal and instant oatmeal; canned goods; hygiene products, like deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, and soap; and other pantry staples, including gluten-free pasta, peanut butter and jelly, and mac and cheese, according to the webpage.
According to the Sept. 15 email, while the appliances and cookware located in the kitchen will be currently unavailable due to COVID-19 safety precautions, the store will be open the same hours as Hodson Hall Commons, with one student worker in charge of the physical location.
The H&H Initiative also developed “Rules of Civility” for the store and for WC community members to abide by when visiting. This will include taking only what is needed; donating when and what you can to continue this mission’s growth; cleaning up after oneself and others; leaving comments and suggestions; and continuing to come as often as needed.
Additionally, the store will continue to provide and collect from donation boxes across the College campus, including at the Casey Academic Center and Toll Science Center. Items from these locations will be collected weekly to stock the store. For cash and check donations, be sure to reach out to Webster for more information.
According to White, through both the Free General Store and other planned projects the Initiative strives to not only provide sustainable resources and support for all members of the College community and understand the impact these issues have on college campuses, but to help all WC members and receive the assets to succeed — both on campus and beyond.
“One of our goals is to make sure that students, the student body, and our college community is aware of the issues that many … face with regard to hunger and homelessness,” White said. “The whole purpose of the store is to be there for any [person] who needs that resource or support. There’s no qualifications for you to be able to use a store like that.”
“We would not be able to do any of this without the whole community. The store is open to anyone in need from students, staff, and faculty,” Webster said. “It is a no judgement zone, and we encourage people to use it if they need it.”
Photo by Lorna Cummings