Polk County Itemizer-Observer
By Craig Coleman
MONMOUTH — Laurie ONeal said the issue of Western Oregon University students going hungry never occurred to her until two weeks ago.
A forthcoming graduate, ONeal said she had given a short spiel during a health class about a food pantry she was organizing on campus.
A classmate walked up to her afterward and gave her a heartfelt “thank you.”
“She said she came from a family that was well-off, but that school was harder than she thought,” ONeal said. “She was (financially) struggling, but didn’t want to go back and ask her parents for food.
“You see homelessness, you can see lack of materials, but you don’t really see hunger.”
ONeal said her hope is that the “Hungry Like the Wolf” food pantry on the ground floor of the Administrative Programs building will help alleviate problems of access to healthy food on campus.
Shelves of the food bank have been stocked with canned fruits and vegetables, pasta, snacks and other food collected by various departments throughout the university last month.
“This food is meant for students, faculty and employees,” ONeal said. “We’re not going to say ‘no’ to anybody.”
Though the school year is drawing to a close, the pantry will remain open on a part-time basis during the summer. It will run full-time next fall, she said.
Produce harvested from WOU’s campus garden will be available, while Marion-Polk Food Share has tentatively committed to acting as a supplier. The Associated Students of Western Oregon University have allocated funding for 2012-13, ONeal said.
The program will be complimented by educational presentations on how to budget for food and what items students should be spending their money on.
ONeal and other health education students have gotten the food bank off the ground, though the foundation was laid through campus studies and local efforts regarding food availability in recent years.
A survey of students on campus by WOU’s College of Community Health Education in 2011 showed 58 percent of respondents referring to themselves as “food insecure.”
Jackson Stalley, president of WOU’s chapter of Service Employees International Union and a pantry supporter, said his union surveyed members about the impact of the recession last year and was surprised at “how many (respondents) were getting food stamps through the state or cash assistance through their families for food.”
The Helping Hands Food Bank in Monmouth embarked on a campaign three years ago to try and distribute food to college-age individuals. Western’s SEIU chapter started an ad hoc effort to provide food to needy staff and students from a campus garden.
Chemeketa Community College and Oregon State University both run school food pantries. ONeal said a major barrier to the campus pantry is the self-conscious factor.
“I don’t think students want to go to a food pantry or go stand in a line somewhere to get a food box,'” she said. “But I think if we inform them that this is on campus and that it’s meant for them, they’ll be willing.”
* For more information about — or to donate food or funds to — the Hungry Like the Wolf Food Bank, visit the “Hungry Like the Wolf” Facebook page or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.