Rhonda Huisman with the food pantry
The pantry opened in January to collect and distribute shelf-stable food items and donate personal care items to students in need.
It was fully operational just in time to serve students as needs exploded during the state’s COVID-19 social distancing response. The pantry was moved from its original location in the University Library to Atwood Memorial Center and expanded its hours to meet the need of students thanks to donations of more than $54,000 from more than 490 donors.
Efforts to explore how to respond to insecurity began in earnest last year with the formation of a committee led by Special Advisor to the President Judith Siminoe.
Accessing the pantry
The Huskies Food Pantry is open to all students.
Each time they use the pantry students will show their Campus Card and fill out an intake form.
No identifiable information is collected, the data is for Second Harvest purposes about demographic information and level of need.
The group started out looking at the unique needs of students at St. Cloud State and then examined ways other campuses were addressing similar needs as well as exploring what it would take to start a food pantry and where to house it. The efforts resulted in the spring semester launch of Chartwells Food Insecurity Program, which connects students in need with meal access in Garvey Commons.
Focus on establishing a licensed food pantry came into focus this fall at the urging of Uprety.
Student Government was a big advocate for the food pantry and food insecurity is Students United’s area of focus this year.
Uprety worked with University Foundation Vice President Matt Andrew to set up a fund for the pantry.
Before it even went public, the size of the account tripled, Northenscold said.
Student interns from Bridges to Community Resources helped get operating procedures set up and were trained in as volunteers. Higher Education master’s student David Thompson is doing his practicum in support of the food pantry designing training materials for volunteers, creating a packet of resources for those interested in hosting donation drives, and meeting with campus groups and talking with people about how they can get involved.
In his work he’s committed to making sure the food pantry is a resource for all students — those with different religious and cultural backgrounds as well as those with different dietary needs and preferences.
Establishing a pantry
At the start of fall semester Huisman and library staff Melissa Northenscold, Sheila Landucci and Teresa Bautch began working to secure space in the library for the pantry and attend St. Cloud’s food handler retail training and submit licensing to establish the pantry.
It has been a lesson in both food safety and unexpressed student needs for library staff. Figuring out how best to address those needs is something both staff and student interns are learning together, Huisman said.
The Library has been a part of the affordability efforts on campus in the past. Last year the Library began exploring textbook affordability measures and partnered with Student Government to start a Textbooks on Reserve program where students can help one another by donating used textbooks for other students to access.
“We’re trying to take away that insecurity and make them feel more secure,” Huisman said. “We’ve got to give all these different kinds of services to make students feel that they can come to the university no matter what kind of issue they are facing and find someone who knows how to help.”
Students helping students
Uprety sees the pantry as another way for students to help students.
“We can bring the students together on a common cause of trying to solve some of the problems that affect other students who are being affected by being food insecure,” he said.
How to help
This issue is impacting students in their academic life and social life. They are worrying about where their next meal is coming from, he said.
“In order to be compassionate, that’s what I personally want to bring out in other students as well — to be compassionate toward this. Give up a $5 coffee for a day and give something to the food pantry,” he said. “That’s the sense of belonging that we’re trying to bring to St. Cloud State, and I do envision this being a way to bring together the current students and the alumni.”
He sees the pantry as a beginning. He is hoping to continue developing projects to serve other needs among the student body and to join a new tradition within student governments throughout Minnesota State to host competitive donation drives.
Social work major Islam Abuhadid agrees with his vision for the pantry.
“We want students to be involved because it’s for all students, so we want them to be involved — students helping students,” she said.
Abuhadid is a student intern with Bridges to Community Resources and is volunteering with the Huskies Food Pantry this semester.
She has put up a bulletin board in the pantry with information and recipes about how to make use of the food that is available and edited a video for an upcoming crowdsourcing campaign for Huskies Food Pantry.
Through her work with Bridges to Community Resources she’s seen students facing insecurities such as struggling to pay for rent, food, gas and health insurance.
When the pantry first opened, donation collections began in earnest and accelerated with increased demand during Minnesota’s Stay at Home order. The pantry is partnering with Second Harvest Heartland to purchase food, which means a $1 donation can buy $5 worth of food. Physical food and other goods donations are also being collected and welcomed by students using the pantry.
The pantry quietly opened with a soft launch at the beginning of spring semester as it worked toward setting up policies and procedures and securing its partnership with Second Harvest, but once the Huskies Food Pantry signs went up the donations started pouring in and students began accepting assistance. More than 4,000 pounds of food have already been distributed. The pantry is continuing to serve students during the COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic this summer.=
Assistance efforts on campus
Bridges to Community Resources
Bridges to Community Resources is a campus organization that helps students in need access resources available within the community. The group was started by Social Work Assistant Professor Dr. Sheila Moriarty with student interns interviewing students and helping them connect with resources.
Huskies Swipe Share
Huskies Swipe Share is a donation-based meal swipe program run by dining service provider Chartwells. Students with unused meals can donate them to the program and the meals can be added to the account of a self-identified student in need upon availability.
The Supporting University Student To Alleviate Insecurity Now (SUSTAIN) Grant is sponsored by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education to provide support to students struggling with non-educational costs with the focus on addressing food, housing, transportation child care and other needs.
Textbooks on Reserve
Textbooks on Reserve is a program that makes donated textbooks available for students to use on a two-hour reserve in the library. The books are available in the Library and can be checked out in two-hour intervals.