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College Tackles Food Insecurity with On-Campus Food Pantry

February 26, 2021
Food Pantry

Back in the summer of 2019, The College of Idaho had an issue. A number of students had to stay on campus over the summer and the College’s food-service partner, Bon Appetit, is not open when school is not in session.

So the Student Affairs department cobbled together a small food pantry to support those students.

“We didn’t even know what we were doing,” said Tammy Harris, the administrative assistant for Student Affairs. “We just knew we needed to provide some food for the students.”

Fast forward to the early months of 2021 and the College’s food pantry, located in the McCain Student Center, has grown by leaps and bounds to include large freezers, cooking supplies in the dorms, and a partnership with the Idaho Food Bank.

“First of all, there’s a need,” Harris said. “There is food insecurity in this world and on this campus.”

In 2019, campus leadership was searching for solutions. Jeff Taylor, the president of the College’s Board of Trustees, suggested the Idaho Food Bank. The initial get-to-know meeting evolved into a formal partnership with the first food delivery to the College coming this past November. Harris said the College gets weekly donations from the Food Bank and also generous contributions from area churches and private donations. All of them aimed at making sure the College campus is not a hungry campus. The need has not diminished due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected all corners of the campus community.

“It’s available for students, staff, and faculty,” noted Harris, who oversees the pantry. “It’s not just for international students who couldn’t go home for the winter or summer.”

The no-cost food pantry is open three times per week: Mondays between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., Wednesdays between 2:00 p.m and 5:00 p.m., and Fridays between 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. The pantry isn’t limited to non-perishable items, though there is a good selection of canned and boxed goods. Harris says, although the exact list of items varies, the pantry often has fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, poultry, and other frozen meats.

“There’ll be stuff back there – CLIF bars, potato chips, pretzels – that will sit there for quite a while,” Harris laughed. “But you bring in some fresh green peppers, tomatoes, grapes, and watch out. Fresh eggs go so fast.”

The pantry’s primary storage freezer was purchased by Residence Life and Harris says Bon Appetit has been a tremendous partner as well, often offering additional freezer space if the pantry is full as well as providing food donations. Along with the freezer, Residence Life also outfitted each of the dorm’s kitchens with adequate cooking supplies that allow students to properly prepare and cook food obtained at the pantry.

Two students help Harris manage the pantry, sophomore Frederike Walinsky and junior Jacinto Quimua. They are involved in all aspects of the project but have proven extremely valuable in good, old-fashioned customer service. When someone comes in, Walinsky and Quimua are eager to assist.

“I think it is a help to employees and students, it’s a great mutual-aid resource,” said Walinsky, a marketing and digital media major. “We don’t judge and hope everyone feels welcome and that it helps build compassion on campus in general.”

One of the primary goals of the College is to provide students with learning opportunities outside the classroom. Harris says she hopes the pantry can continue to be part of that. Student Affairs would like to see the pantry continue to evolve into a student-owned initiative, which could include more employment opportunities and internships for students who are interested in non-profit organizations.

Members of the campus community who have used the pantry are grateful.

“Most of my money, as an international (student) with a waiver on education and living expenses, is spent on groceries,” said Yousef Hanafi, a sophomore who is majoring in computer science and business administration. “The food pantry has made most of those groceries available to me.”

Another student echoed those thoughts.

“The pantry definitely helped us in the long break (between semesters) where most of us did not have a job or source of income, and it continues to do so for a lot of us,” said Rosol Alftealh, a junior double-majoring in biomedical sciences and psychology. “We surely appreciate having free, accessible groceries, meat, and hygiene products.”

Questions and inquiries about the pantry, which will operate year-round, should be directed to Harris.

The College of Idaho has a 130-year-old legacy of excellence. The College is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition, and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom. For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.