After one semester, campus food pantry sees increased interest

Todd Kleiboer, Co-Editor

Todd Kleiboer
Nikki Barnett opens the freezer unit that was donated to the pantry by Sodexo last semester.

Todd Kleiboer | Co-Editor

After being open for a full semester, the Lion Food Pantry has seen success in providing resources to students during their scheduled openings, but there are a few areas that Nikki Barnett, student case manager who oversees the pantry, could see improvement.

“We started to see more students need emergency food services in between openings,” Barnett said. According to her, 15 emergency visits were scheduled between April and December 2018 during which the pantry opened 12 times. Two were unscheduled.

Barnett plans to open the pantry once a week in the future to help those students who need emergency resources, but she acknowledged that the pantry’s current times, every other Wednesday between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., may not work for many students.

“Students, based on their schedule, are not always available to come during the hours on Wednesdays every other week,” Barnett said. “The need is really starting to become more apparent because more students found out and came to take advantage of this resource.”

To ensure that the pantry can transition to opening once a week, Barnett has hired a student worker and is looking for another one, and she said that student volunteers are also important during openings.

“We hope to get a place where we [food pantry staff] can advise, oversee, and work on growing the pantry, and then we have students doing the operation the day we’re open,” Barnett said. “If we could have volunteers help with that or have student workers in place, that could help us make sure we can open every Wednesday.”

Another obstacle that the pantry faces is the need for efficient transportation across campus to pick up donations from offices. Right now, student volunteers or pantry staff drive close to the office and then pull a dolly to the office.

“If it’s a student volunteer, sometimes they don’t have cars, so trying to pull a dolly across this campus with limited sidewalks, construction, and so on, that’s near to impossible,” Barnett said. “I would never ask a student to do something I would never do myself.”

The pantry is considering obtaining a golf cart to solve this.

Since opening, the Lion Food Pantry has seen donation intake increase significantly because of campus partners such as student organizations or academic departments giving either large donations once or twice or smaller ones consistently throughout the semester.

“The President’s Office donated a refrigerator to us a couple of months ago which was awesome,” Barnett added. “Sodexo donated a freezer unit, and they also filled it with frozen soup, probably a couple hundred pounds of frozen soup. It was really exciting.”

With those recent additions, the food pantry can give out perishable items, but it cannot accept perishable items unless they are either bought by Barnett or the other staff or donated directly from a certified food handling entity like a grocery store or Sodexo.

“We (pantry staff) are food handler certified now, so I know that the groceries are going from the grocery store straight to the refrigerator,” Barnett said. “Whereas, no offense to anyone, we don’t know when someone donates them how long has the food been out of the fridge or something like that.”

Toiletries and personal hygiene products have also been donated to the pantry, and these are not counted toward a student’s food amount. Instead, they fill out a separate checklist, and staff or volunteers retrieve them while the students pick their food.

“We’re in a good relationship with the Samaritan Inn, a homeless shelter in McKinney. Their shelter can’t use small toiletry items from hotels,” Barnett said. “Rather than turning those items away, they call me and say, if you want them, come and get them. I’ll then make a trip and go pick up 200 pounds of tiny toiletries.”

In raw totals, 5,258 pounds of food and toiletries were donated to the food pantry between March and December 2018, and 1,738 pounds of food were given out in 272 visits between April and December 2018. Because toiletries are not counted toward a food total, they are not weighed before they are given away.

“We started measuring toiletries coming but didn’t measure toiletries going out,” Barnett said. “That’s why there’s such a big difference in number because there’s no way we only gave out one-fifth of our food.”

The pantry has been open once this year, and 20 students visited during that time and picked up a total of 138 pounds of food. According to Barnett, the low number was partially because a lack of marketing, and she notes that the pantry scheduled 10 emergency visits in January alone.

“We’ll probably see an increase at the end of the semester when people are financially maybe having a harder time,” Barnett said.

Besides giving food to students, Barnett stresses that the food pantry can direct students to other on- or off-campus resources that would help their situation.

“My theory was, when I started this, that these students coming in wouldn’t just need food services, but they would need other services, too,” Barnett said. “That part has played out to be true, and they [students] do take the opportunity to learn more about those services.”

To contact the food pantry, people can email [email protected], and the Lion Food Pantry is located in Craddock Hall Unit 1A.