New campus food pantry helps DelState students survive challenges

February 10, 2017

Since opening day in October, the Harry K Foundation-supported food pantry on the Delaware State University campus has been well received.

Fifty students signed up to visit the pantry that day; in November, the pantry served 79 students. In total, since the pantry opened there were 178 unduplicated visits in the last months of 2016.

The pantry, a converted closet in the Price Building, became a reality after Amy Gootee-Ash, an instructor in the university’s public and allied health sciences department, looked at the results from a needs-assessment survey.

More than half the 320 students in her department survey indicated they faced food insecurity  issues.

“It’s an issue on a lot of college campuses,” said Gootee-Ash, who is now pantry coordinator.

She points to several issues that college students face, depending on where they live while attending school. Some students living in dormitories may have purchased a “creative meal plan,” one that provides just 10 meals a week.

Most dorm rooms are not equipped with kitchens, and may not accommodate even microwaves or small refrigerators.

“There’s an issue of perishability,” Gootee-Ash said, adding that while fresh food may be inexpensive at the nearby Produce Junction, students have no place to safely store it.

Many students have non-traditional living arrangements and may not have a familial support system.

Kiana, a senior forensic biology major, is a commuter student who works while attending college full time. She plans to join the military and go to medical school. She welcomes the boost the pantry provides to her and her family.

“It helps with my siblings and my mom,” she said. “I recommend it to people to come along with me.”

Shelf-stable, easy accessible food that requires little preparation moves off the shelves quickly, as do personal hygiene products.

“They love protein bars and shakes,” Gootee-Ash said.

To help stock the shelves, university students have conducted food drives, and student volunteers also staff the pantry every other week on distribution days. The pantry is promoted through social media.

Students who visit the pantry fill out a registration form and are given a number. When their number is called, a volunteer checks them off. The students get in line and enter the pantry three at a time. Another student clocks their 3-minute visit. Still another volunteer weighs their bags as the students exit; food and toiletries are weighed separated, and all transactions are recorded.

Armani is a sophomore public health major who volunteered her time by monitoring her cell phone for the time and recording data.

“It’s important to give people a hand to get food. It’s a good thing to have,” she said.

Dr. Erica Taylor, department chairwoman, agrees.

“It’s been very positive, and the students are so appreciative,” she said.

For more information about programs offered by the Food Bank of Delaware, click here.

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