Last spring, two micro food pantries were established as a temporary, on-campus solution to ease a hurdle some students face on a daily basis – food insecurity, or lack of regular access to adequate and nutritious food. This coming January, the Office of Community Engagement plans to open six to 10 permanent food pantry cabinets across campus, thanks to a $10,000 sponsorship from the Dairy Farmers of Washington.
Roughly one-third of Eastern students have identified themselves as food insecure, according to EWU’s Health and Wellness biennial survey conducted in May 2016. To immediately address students’ needs, resources on campus banded together to create an exploration group, along with temporary food pantries at the Women’s and Gender Education Center and Pride Center.
In April 2017, the EWU Office of Community Engagement embraced the leadership role of working toward a permanent solution to ease student hunger on campus. After looking at a food pantry model at the University of Idaho, they decided to implement a system where metal cabinets of nonperishable food items are strategically placed in public but not prominent spaces across campus for students to grab food as they need.
“There is a lot of shame being a college student needing food,” said Brian Davenport, director of the Office of Community Engagement. “Anything that can be done to remove barriers to access increases the likelihood that the student will take advantage of the food pantry. Even having to go into the office to talk to someone to get food is a barrier.”
The Office of Community Engagement applied for and received an AmeriCorps grant from Washington Campus Contact, which provided the office with an AmeriCorps VISTA, Kayla Martinez. Martinez focuses on food insecurity in the community and on campus, and has been building partnerships with organizations in the area, such as Second Harvest, to help with student hunger on campus.
Because of Martinez’s work, Second Harvest has agreed to add Eastern as a distribution site, and will be delivering food to a centralized space on campus that will then be distributed by student volunteers to the cabinets. ELM Campus Ministries will also meet the hygiene needs of students by providing shampoo, soap and feminine products.
“We needed shelving and we needed cabinets. That costs money, and that was our hang up,” Davenport said. “And that’s where the Dairy Farmers of Washington stepped up huge.”
“Without them agreeing to be the sponsor, we are still in the planning stage, or the idea stage, as opposed to the feeding students stage,” he said.
In the next year, Davenport and the Office of Community Engagement hopes to open a centralized food pantry with refrigerators to house fresh dairy, produce and meat.
Update: Thank you to STCU for the surprise $2,500 donation on Nov. 8 in support of the food pantry.