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Costs outpace donations for Western Hub of Living Essentials

Supply pantry staff works to continue funding student support programs

Produce at the WHOLE food pantry in the Viking Union at Western Washington University on Nov. 29, 2023. The food pantry offers healthy, nutritious foods for students. // Photo by Joshua Grambo

The Western Hub of Living Essentials, which offers free food and cleaning supplies for students who may not be able to afford necessities, is facing its own affordability concerns. 

The WHOLE supply pantry in Viking Union room 435 is one of five campus food and supply pantries designed to support students. On average, The WHOLE pantry costs $1500 a week to maintain, said Western Assistant Director of Community Engagement Jenn Cook.

Giving Tuesday, an event that took place on Nov. 28 this year, is an international event focusing on giving to support charity organizations. Participating in the event, WHOLE held a donation drive to get additional funds to purchase supplies for students.


A graphic depicting how the cost of food and basic supplies in Washington rose sharply following the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Washington State Food Security Survey results, between the first survey in 2020 and the most recent 2023 data, grocery spending increased by 57%. // Graphic by Joshua Grambo

WHOLE primarily relies on donations from faculty, staff and alumni to afford supplies for students. The increased cost of supplies and low viability for relying on donations have led the organization to begin donation drives to continue supplying the pantry.

“The funds go very quickly. We need to spend more than we receive, which is why we wanted to do fundraising days like Giving Tuesday, to really push and encourage people to donate,” said Cook, who helped organize the event.

Food insecurity has been on the rise since the beginning of COVID-19, with a 7% increase throughout Washington state between 2021 and 2023, according to the Washington State Food Security Survey.

At these rates, support organizations have been having trouble keeping up with costs.

“It is difficult to keep up with the increases that are happening. What that means is that people leave with less and less food. … We can’t continually provide more and more and more,” said Stephanie Sisson, the outreach coordinator at the Bellingham Food Bank.

The Bellingham Food Bank offers a variety of support to a large portion of the population of Whatcom County, such as its free grocery program.

Health products

The WHOLE food pantry in the Viking Union at Western Washington University on Nov. 29, 2023 offers produce and other necessities that are important for student health. Supplies offered include toilet paper, toothpaste, soap, toothbrushes and safe sex supplies. // Photo by Joshua Grambo

Cook said although the state and university are working to address funding issues, WHOLE services may need to be put on hold until a more steady inflow of donations is acquired.

For students looking to support WHOLE, volunteering is a free and easily accessible option.

“Our volunteers will stop in for maybe an hour a week, and that’s a huge help to us, so any help that students can give is very welcome,” Cook said.

Students can sign up to volunteer online at the Western Involvement Network.

Joshua Grambo

Joshua Grambo (he/him) is a campus news reporter and journalism/news editorial major in his second year at Western. Outside of the Front, Joshua enjoys reading, playing dungeons and dragons, spending time with family, and working on craft projects. You can reach him at

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