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Friday, May 14, 2021

Western offers free food to students during pandemic.

A pop-up pantry is open at the Viking Union Thursdays from 12-2 p.m. for students to pick up non-perishables and fresh produce.

From left to right, these pantry items were collected on July 16 and July 23 by two students. The foods available change each week, and some options may vary depending on what time students show up to collect the food. // Photos by Corinna Cook
These pantry items were collected on July 16 by a student. The foods available change each week, and some options may vary depending on what time students show up to collect the food. // Photos by Corinna Cook

By Corinna Cook

With just their Western ID, students can show up at the Viking Union to receive free bags of food at a pop-up pantry. Outside Vendor’s Row by the Viking Union, volunteers help students choose meal kits and produce to take home. The produce available is a mix of goods from the Outback Farm and other local farms through CSA boxes. The pantry runs every Thursday from 12-2 p.m., and will continue through Aug 20.

Food insecurity is a real issue many college students across the country face. According to a survey of WWU students in 2017, nearly 50% of students who responded worried regularly about whether or not they would be able to afford food before they ran out. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made that need more pressing, as students have lost their jobs and other forms of income. The pantry offers a quick solution to a part of the problem.

These pantry items were collected on July 23 by a student. The foods available change each week, and some options may vary depending on what time students show up to collect the food. // Photos by Corinna Cook

“It was clear even before COVID, that food insecurity is getting in the way of students learning and students engaging,” said Lindsey Macdonald, the interim director for the Office of Sustainability. “In my opinion, getting access to good healthy food is a basic need.” 

MacDonald emphasized that while this is working as a temporary solution, she doesn’t see it as a long-term fix. “I imagine it’ll happen in some form in the fall as well, but we just haven’t quite figured out the exact details yet,” said MacDonald.

“It’s great with the systems that we’re sitting within right now,” said MacDonald. “And it may be what we’re working with for the at least short-term future, but I think we can get to something that’s better.”

Students who are not able to safely travel to campus to receive the pantry food can go to COVID-19 Student Assistance to fill out a questionnaire and receive gift cards to use for groceries. 

“We like to think that like Western students, no matter where they are, are still Western students,” said Terri Kempton, the Outback Farm manager. “So even if they are quarantining in a different state or they’re quarantining at home, that we still can support them somewhat.”

The pantry is funded through a Sustainability, Equity, and Justice Fund (SEJF) grant, which is paid for by students at 90 cents per credit up to a maximum of $9. There was a similar pop-up pantry during spring quarter, and MacDonald wrote a grant to continue the pantry through the summer. 

The pantry itself is a large collaboration of different offices across campus including the Outback Farm, the Office of Sustainability, Student Equity and Identity Resource Centers (SAIRC) and dining, among others.

“It’s just this amazing collaboration, all these people working madly behind the scenes, trying to figure out like, how can we do right by our students,” said Kempton. “We know that this is an extra challenging time.” 

According to the grant, 140 meal kits were distributed at the first pop-up pantry. 

“I think it’s between 70 and 120 students a week is what I’ve heard,” said Shannon Sandberg, a Western student and the project coordinator for SEJF.

Students can choose between a few different types of food kits, including vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options. 

Sandberg is currently working with another student on a grant to bring menstrual products to the pop-up pantry as well. 

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