Written by Diana Lee
The Food Pantry is relatively new to the university and there are still many that do not know about it. I personally did not know about it until my second semester of my third year even though it was located in the basement of my workplace, which I have been working for almost a year. The Food Pantry is a collection of humble efforts and altruistic and kind students who volunteer their own time and efforts to help others.
The Food Pantry also provides food at no cost for students who are food insecure. Once I got involved with the Food Pantry, I was given a project to lead and at the beginning, I was extremely cautious and overwhelmed by the amount of pressure. Yet, what I learned was that if you have the inspiration and the effort, just jump right in and everything will work out fine and beautifully.
I lead a project called the Mobile Pop-Up Food Pantry, which aims to target students who are not able to access the main location of the Food Pantry, either because they live too far from it to lug everything back or because they do not have classes in that area, and my task was to make the pop-ups more regular throughout the semester. The Food Pantry had only piloted the mobile pop-up pantry twice last semester. I had trouble mobilizing the Mobile Pop-Up Food Pantry at first. I didn’t know where to start in organizing the volunteers and it was not until I got an offer to have a pop-up at an event on campus that I jumped into action. I triple-checked everything, from the car keys to an estimate of what items to bring, and sent several reminders to the volunteers in high detail about the day of operation and spent so much time worrying that everything would be in place. After the first time, I realized that it was not as difficult as I first thought and that I was fortunate to be given the position of this project’s leader because it made me realize that I have a lot of abilities to structure the pop-ups. We are lucky to be on a campus that encourages active participation from students and gives students the power to address concerns within its own student body.
What amazed me was that we accomplished much more than our mission. We initially set out to station the mobile pop-ups all over campus to address the food insecurities of the students in each area but we ran into more than just students. More than only reaching out to students, faculty, visitors, alumni, and parents all had positive reactions to the Food Pantry’s mission that we relayed to them and gave us back good feedback. All of them thanked the Food Pantry and there were even a few that immediately wanted to help and opened their wallets, ready to donate. It was amazing to know that there were so many people that would not hesitate to fight the issue of student food insecurity.
As I progressed with my project, I was drawn to other projects within the Food Pantry. On Fridays, we have a registered dietician from the Tang Center who comes to do food demonstrations with food from the Food Pantry, to inspire students to be creative with food and to learn simple yet delicious recipes. Another project is that we get weekly donations of prepared food which increases the diversity of the food that we offer. I got a little ahead of myself and co-started a new project, our Instagram project, that sought to promote new produce, Friday food demonstrations, happenings with the Mobile Pop-Up Food Pantry, and a new contest where followers can upload a picture of the food they made with the Food Pantry’s items in return to have their account featured on our page. Unfortunately, the contest did not accumulate many active participants. While there are many pathways to grow the Food Pantry, not everything will work out on the first try and moving forward with small steps will be effective than trying to take on too much at once.
However, the Food Pantry has so much more capabilities to grow. There are so many possibilities for new projects and there are so many students who support our motives. I know that many improvements can be made to my projects but I am very proud of how far my team and I have gotten. I am also very proud of the contribution that we made to the Food Pantry’s objectives and in the end, I would say we did pretty well for a group of six people. We held more than twice the amount of pop-ups than last semester, which, if one factors in the ever-changing schedule of busy students, was difficult to coordinate with the availabilities of volunteers. We were able to spread awareness of the Food Pantry and spread our mission’s message. We were able to show that this project can succeed as we build upon our experiences from each time. We have the power and the support to fight food insecurity on campus step by step. All it takes is a team of motivated students and a plan.