By Julia Di Simone
This Monday marked the opening of Willamette’s student-run food pantry. Located in Shepard House, the pantry is open Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 9am to 5pm. Students are encouraged to take what they need and student-volunteers operating the pantry are committed to maintaining student confidentiality. With the support of 75 students interested in volunteering, 10 student-volunteers operating the pantry, a team of students from the Community Service Learning (CSL) Office, faculty and staff, Willamette’s Food Pantry is up and running, providing a crucial resource for the student community.
Faculty and staff have discussed creating a campus food pantry since the 2016 — 2017 school year. The CSL office’s Community Engagement Scholars have since taken on the project and brought it from concept to reality. Sophomore Bella Green and junior Tova Hershman explain that their roles as Community Engagement Scholars are to make volunteering more accessible to Willamette students. Green and Hershman have been researching barriers which stop WU students from volunteering and have worked to break down those barriers.
Green’s idea to start a food pantry on campus was sparked by a conversation with her friend, a college student at another Oregon university. She worried about her friend’s ability to transition to living off campus because of his limited funds and he shared with Green that he utilizes the campus food pantry to make ends meet. Green wondered why Willamette didn’t already have a similar resource.
Green and Hershman connected with the wider campus community who were interested in starting a food pantry. With the support of students, staff and faculty, Green and Hershman headed the project and brought it to fruition. “People have gone out of their way to help us,” Green reflected. “It really restored my faith in community building.”
With the help of a Green Initiative Fund grant, Green and Hershman organized a temporary pantry over Fall Break in 2017. Students who used the pantry were asked to document which items they took so that the pantry team could track which items were most popular and inform their purchasing decisions for the permanent pantry. The fact that students used the temporary pantry displayed that there is a need for a food pantry at Willamette. This became especially evident during Fall Break, when students were unable to use their meal points to dine on campus.
Green and Hershman are working to dispel the misconception that students who attend a private, liberal arts university do not have the need for a food pantry. Chaplain Karen Wood heard the need voiced by students, and advocated for a student food pantry to address food insecurity amongst Willamette students. Green and Hershman conducted a survey of students in which 40 percent of respondents identified being food insecure at some point. Due to its low response rate, this survey is not necessarily representative of the WU population at large. However, as Green explains, “the goal of the Food Pantry is to meet those needs — no matter how much of the population it serves.”
Stemming from the success of the temporary pantry, students began to organically spread the word about the project. Green and Hershman reported that students approached them about volunteering even before they distributed emails asking for volunteers. Sophomore Jaelin Sonoda became interested in helping with the food pantry when she saw the Fall Break temporary pantry. Sonoda was inspired by what she sees as the “goodwill and honesty that goes into running a free service like this.” She decided to get involved as a way to share her love of food with others and help ensure that fewer students have to worry about food insecurity.
The opening of Willamette’s Food Pantry shows how driven Willamette students are to provide for one another. Willamette students jumped at the opportunity to to volunteer their time, between two and 10 hours per week to help their community. Green and Hershman now have a list of student volunteers they can call on to staff the pantry and organize food during weekend work parties. To join their mailing list and be notified of volunteer opportunities with the pantry, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.