Student pantry fills food gap
May 20, 2020
The old joke about the “freshman 15,” referring to a first-year college student’s average weight gain, isn’t so funny for many college and university students. For them, there’s a gap when it comes to feeding themselves—something more and more postsecondary schools recognize and address through campus food pantries.
In 2016, the University of Wisconsin-Madison published a climate survey that reported 12% of its students struggle to afford food and housing. The same year, a resource called the Open Seat Food Pantry opened on campus in February. The Open Seat served a “consistent flow of students” from the beginning, according to Samantha Arriozola, one of the original staff members of the pantry.
From the start, students expressed gratitude for the help offered by the Open Seat. “We have gotten a lot of gratefulness and joy from most everyone we have encountered,” said Arrioizola. She explained that students struggling to feed themselves were excited for help in bridging the food gap.
Since the economy bottomed out in 2008, students across the country have found it more and more difficult to make ends meet. Before 2008, only five campuses offered food pantry services to their students. By 2015, there were 199 campus food pantries in existence.
Student food insecurity arises from a variety of factors. A change in the student profile contributes to it. Many are returning adult, international, or other nontraditional students, who often must feed family members in addition to themselves on wages from part-time jobs. Their situations frequently don’t allow for help from parents. The cost of living has continued to rise although wages have not. Students end up having to choose between books and food, an extra class to graduate on time or more work hours to feed themselves and their families.
When COVID-19 hit the United States, it made that situation worse. Colleges and universities were forced to shut down in-person instruction and student housing. This left students who were already walking a fine line without any security.
Open Seat Director Yogev Ben-Yitschak told the Capital Times (“As UW-Madison campus empties, some students grapple with food housing insecurity,” 3/19/20) that the pantry serves high numbers of international and graduate students. The pantry regularly serves 300 students each year.
Ben-Yitschak told reporter Yvonne Kim that the pantry expected many more users and feared a lack of resources to meet the need. In March, the pantry planned to move to a temporary location and change the way it operated to follow pandemic safety guidelines. Instead of allowing clients to pick up their own items, staff members were planning to pre-package and distribute them. As of mid-April, the Open Seat is open from noon to 1:00 for pickup services at Union South. Students should sign up for a food package.
“We’ll probably need to cut back on how much we give to one person,” Ben-Yitschak told Kim. “I feel for a lot of students. I’m afraid that the worst is yet to come.”
The Keep Food Pantry, a joint service of Luther Memorial Church and Lutheran Campus Ministries, remains open in the basement of Luther Memorial Church at 1021 University Avenue to serve students from the UW, Edgewood College, and Madison College. An academic ID is required to sign up for food packages. The pantry now offers pre-packaged nutritious food items instead of user-choice. Clients must sign up ahead of time to register a visit.