Eastern Washington University has opened six small food pantries scattered across its Cheney campus to help students who do not have enough to eat.
Students can use the pantries anonymously. All are located in public, but not prominent, locations, said director of the Office of Community Engagement Brian Davenport.
Many people have heard tales of poor college students surviving on ramen noodles, but the stories are not embellished, Davenport said. “That’s a real thing,” he said. “We have students who don’t have enough food. We wanted to do something about it. This is not OK.”
The university’s most recent health and wellness survey asked students about their level of food insecurity. About 30 percent reported that they either did not have enough money for food or that they worried about running out of food before they could afford to buy more.
Some offices on campus began stocking food as a short-term solution, Davenport said. Two weeks ago, the university placed the 6-foot tall cabinets and stocked them with food from Second Harvest, which will provide a shipment of food once a month.
The cabinets are stocked with canned food and some grab and go food. There is no refrigeration, so fresh food is not available. Davenport said they hope to be able to offer milk, produce and meat beginning in the next academic year.
Some toiletry items are also available. “If you don’t have money for food, you might not have money for toothpaste, either,” he said.
The pantry cabinets are located on the bottom floor of the library, on the first floor of Showalter Hall, in the lower lobby of the University Recreation Center, on the third floor of Sutton Hall, in Isle Hall and in the P.E. classroom building.
Students are asked to identify themselves on a sign-in sheet with three initials. They can be made up, but students need to use the same three initials every time they use the pantry, Davenport said. The pantries are open whenever the buildings are open, which makes it easier for them to be accessed discreetly.
“There’s a lot of shame and stigma around accessing food,” he said. “Students can access them when it’s convenient to them.”
Students are also asked to provide some demographic information, such as gender, what year in school they are in and whether they are a veteran.
In the first six days the pantries were open, 36 students used them. Davenport said he’s not too worried about students taking advantage of the system if they don’t really need help.
“I think for the most part people get it,” he said. “Any system can be abused. I would rather operate for the 99 percent who will use it like they’re supposed to.”
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