While the Governor’s Food Drive took place all over Oregon in February, the Western Oregon University Food Pantry conducted its usual business of providing cooking staples to students and community members. While the pantry received a portion of the food drive donations collected on campus, its services are mainly independent of the food drive. It is open year-round for those who are struggling to pay their grocery bills.
The Food Pantry is regularly stocked with meat, vegetables, and other dietary necessities. The Associated Students of Western Oregon University (ASWOU) who oversee the pantry have recently been adding more interest to its inventory by requesting uncommon donations such as spices. “Help put a little SPICE in someone’s life!” says a flyer on the donation rack just outside the pantry.
The pantry is located on the second floor of the Academic Programs and Services building near the SEP office and Honors Department. It is not an ideal location according to ASWOU Vice-President Kellon Hughes. “We wish it was in a more accessible location…like inside the WUC (Werner University Center),” he said. However, the number of people accessing the pantry has increased over the last year, indicating that ASWOU is meeting its goal of increasing food security on campus. According to Hughes, 59% of WOU students qualify as food-insecure, and the purpose of the pantry is to end that insecurity for as many as possible. “ASWOU and the Food Pantry want to make sure that every WOU student has access to enough food,” said ASWOU Director of Internal Affairs Adam Jensen.
The decision to accept food from the pantry can be a difficult one, however, even in the face of hunger. Acknowledging that it can be a “stigmatized type of issue,” Hughes emphasized that the pantry’s services are confidential. Applicants initially fill out paperwork for bookkeeping purposes, but forms that include their names are shredded as soon as possible. The pantry is committed to relieving both the food insecurity and the anxiety about seeking help that many students face.
From time to time, ASWOU organizes special programs to promote the Food Pantry and make it accessible to the campus community. Hughes and Debbie Diehm, assistant to the Vice-President of Student Affairs, have recently been working on a gift card program that allows applicants access to gift cards for grocery stores. Hughes also organized a service to provide hot food for students during dead week. “I know dead week is very stressful to cook dinner; I know I mainly skip or go cold,” he said. This term, he and the Food Pantry offered students a third option: a hot meal conveniently offered on campus.
Whether students and community members are in want of someone else to cook for them or in need of groceries they cannot afford, the Food Pantry is an important resource. It is open year-round on weekdays and weekends, usually from nine to five. Hours are limited, Jensen said, because it is primarily staffed by student volunteers. “If anybody around over the summer is looking for volunteer hours this would be valuable experience,” he added.
Those wishing to donate food rather than time can leave items at the pantry itself or in the bin outside ASWOU’s office in the WUC.