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Food pantry helps students in need
March 15, 2011Tweet
Patricia Donahue opens the double doors of a tall cabinet located in the Financial Aid Services office. The large cabinet contains donations of canned foods, dry goods and other non-perishables available for students with limited access to food. Once stocked with sufficient donations from campus faculty and staff, the food pantry is now severely low on food supplies.
The problem is that donations have dwindled over time.
“Throughout the year we get the campus offices to donate, with Christmas being the best time. But more recently, we have had to ask for donations every semester,” said Donahue, associate director of student services.
Mainly coordinated by Donahue and Administrative Assistant Debra DeSanctis, the pantry provides free food for students who are in need. Students in need include those whose meal plan may be running low, or those who have run out of money. There are no criteria, meaning any student can use the pantry.
The pantry accepts donations of pre-packaged food that has a long shelf life. Sometimes toiletries are also donated.
Usage is higher during certain times of the semester.
“It’s used more toward the end of the semester,” Donahue said, “but we see students at the beginning of the semester, too, if they are having trouble finalizing their financing options or their refunds have not yet been processed.”
Yet lately it seems the requests for donations are not taken to heart.
“The pantry hasn’t grown much. The only difference is that there used to be a conscious decision by the campus community to collect a high volume of donations during the holidays, and we just don’t get as much now.”
A major contribution to the pantry’s success so far is that students can use it in private.
“It’s anonymous; we don’t want anyone to be uncomfortable or embarrassed about using it. We don’t keep track of names or the number of students who use it,” Donahue said.
The way students are informed about the pantry ensures it is used by those who really need it. The Financial Aid office follows a set of procedures for its use when helping students who come in with a financial dilemma. “Each student is signed up to see a counselor. In addition to offering the pantry if needed, we have a budget conversation,” Donahue said.
“That means we talk about what educational expenses they have, the financial aid funds they are eligible for and what other resources they have (i.e., employment, money from parents, etc.) to get them through the semester. By doing this, they hopefully will look at their financial situation more closely and not be in the same situation the following month. Although the pantry is not as widely advertised among the students, donations are heavily encouraged among the different departments on campus. DeSanctis routinely submits requests for donations on Dateline, Donahue said.
Donahue said it is difficult to pinpoint the specific reason why donations have dwindled. It could be that there are other campus organizations that contribute to the well being of students, she said.
Nevertheless, the pantry is still not completely empty. The goal is to promote the pantry and donations among the University’s staff, and continue to help students.
“Bottom line … if a student comes in and they are hungry, we tell them to help themselves to the food pantry,” Donahue said, “It’s really for whoever is in need.”