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Friday, April 3, 2020

Food pantries on campus continue operations

Photo by Zoe Buchli

By Zoe Buchli

Last year, Western opened two food pantries on campus for students, staff and community members to have access to food and personal hygiene products at no cost.

There are two pantries on campus, one located in Birnam Wood and one in the Viking Union, Feeding Western Coordinator Tanner Folvag said. He said his role with the pantries is to help them have a higher impact on campus.

The VU location is operated by the Associated Students, Folvag said, and goes by the acronym WHOLE, Western Hub of Living Essentials.

Alberto Rodriguez, who is in charge of WHOLE’s operations, started working with it in January. They said they do logistical work with WHOLE, working to ensure the pantry has a sufficient amount of supplies.

“My goal in this position is to make sure we have enough coming in for students,” Rodriguez said.

Folvag said the food pantries are the result of student-led research that started in spring 2017 which aimed to assess if food security was impacting Western students at the same rate it was impacting college students nationally.

At the time there was a big push to do research on this particular issue, and through coordination with the Office of Survey Research, Folvag said they were able to incorporate food insecurity questions into the Western Educational Longitudinal Study. This survey is administered to all students during their second year at Western as well as when they graduate.

“They determined the issue of food insecurity is alive and well here on Western’s campus,” Folvag said.

Photo by Zoe Buchli

As a result, the two pantries were developed.

Christian Urcia is the apartment coordinator for Birnam Wood, and is in charge of the food pantry at its second location.

“If we want students to be successful at the university, they need to be successful in life,” Urcia said. “A lot of that comes from the way they’re able to sustain their own needs from feeding themselves.”

According to Rodriguez, the VU pantry operates as a drop-in pantry where any students, staff or community members can grab items from the pantry, and is accessible whenever the VU is open.

Rodriguez said in addition to food items, WHOLE also offers personal hygiene products and includes a clothing closet. WHOLE is also completely anonymous, and there are no ID checks required, Rodriguez said.

Urcia said he, Rodriguez and Folvag work as a team to address food insecurity on campus.

He said the Birnam Wood location began operating in late spring quarter of 2018. This location also uses a food-kit style, where students who want to sign up will receive kits with various dried and canned foods.The kits should provide students with about three to five meals, Urcia said. They are available for pickup on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

He said Birnam Wood requires users to provide their student identification numbers, but that kits are not restricted to Birnam Wood residents.

“We will never turn anyone away if they’re an on-campus student or off-campus student,” Urcia said.

He added that when students sign up for the food kits, they administer questionnaires to get opinions on what’s important to them when it comes to food. Whether it be sustainable packaging, having healthy options or ready-to-eat food, students can give feedback about what issues are most important to them, he said.

With each kit, students can also give feedback on each item, and if there’s a certain item students aren’t liking, Urcia said it won’t be purchased again.

Funding for the two pantries comes from different sources, including grant money and donations. The pantries are primarily running on grants through university residences, Folvag said.

Rodriguez said the majority of the WHOLE pantry’s supplies come from staff going out and purchasing food, but that recently they have been partnering with American Association of University Women Bellingham by sending them lists of supplies they need, including personal care product requests.  

“It was just one more way to help students who are struggling,” AAUW membership co-chair Robin Kagan said. “Knowing that the students were struggling with food, [we thought] boom! Connection. We’re really happy to participate in that.”

Rodriguez said every three weeks they buy a whole new stock of food and items, and restock it on a daily basis as needed.

He said he’s working on gathering more non-perishable food items for the pantries via food drives on campus.

Right now, Western is involved in a rotating food drive for six months with Bellingham Technical College and Whatcom Community College, Folvag said.

Folvag added that he also works with the Bellingham Food Bank, who advises them on where to get discounted food items.

Urcia said the team views the food insecurity project as a method to help students think of other solutions that might help sustain themselves in the future. He said he thinks the greater mission of addressing food security has been the work of many people in Western’s community.

WHOLE is open to donations, and items can be dropped off at VU 513.

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