Hungry and broke students currently enrolled at Southern Oregon University have the opportunity to take advantage of free food as part of the school’s new Food Pantry program designed to address the needs of low-income students.
Students in need can get a maximum of 10 items of food a week, according to Kate Lundquist, coordinator for Student Civic Engagement. The pantry also offers fresh produce and non-perishable food items. The pantry is open every Tuesday and Thursday from 2p.m. to 4 p.m., or by appointment.
The Food Pantry is open only to currently enrolled SOU students with a valid ID. Students wishing to access the pantry will be asked to fill out a simple waiver on their first visit only. Use of the pantry is not connected in any way with students’ official university account, and student ID is only asked for confirmation of enrollment status.
“A lot of universities with similar programs ask students for a lot more to prove they’re in need,” said Brittany Depew, SOU’s environmental and community engagement coordinator, who said the waiver is designed to be as non-invasive as possible. “Saying you’re in need is all we need to hear. We can do that because we’re small.”
“Many college students have a basic need for food and security that they struggle to afford,” said Sophia Mantheakis, the hunger and homelessness alleviation coordinator for SOU’s Civic Engagement Program. “This is partly to be attributed to the economy, but mostly to the rising costs of education.”
SOU is one of a growing number of colleges and universities that have a food pantry to provide basic necessities for students struggling to eat regularly. According to Mantheakis, who was responsible for starting the program at SOU, Oregon has one of the worst food security problems in the country, and is the worst overall for children under 18.
Mantheakis, an alumna of the anti-poverty AmeriCorps VISTA program, proposed the Food Pantry program to the school administration in September. The proposal was buttressed by results of a campus-wide survey conducted by the Civic Engagement Program in the spring of last year, according to Lundquist.
“We gathered data and found high rates of food insecurity. Students are a pretty high percentage [of the insecure population],” Lundquist said.
The survey Lundquist mentioned found that 10 percent of 561 respondents said they had used food insecurity programs in the last week. The survey also showed 32 percent of respondents had used food insecurity services in at least the last year.
More significantly, 22 percent of respondents said they didn’t have access to food insecurity programs in the community due to class or work conflicts. An additional 13 percent lacked access due to transportation issues, and 17 percent said there were other factors preventing them, such as lack of knowledge, conflicting bus schedules, lack of qualification for programs, wanting to preserve resources for others, or embarrassment.
“We want to make it clear there is no judgment, that the pantry is here for [students],” said Depew, who was concerned about the stigma students attach to asking for help.
“We want them to know we are here with open arms,” she added. “We’ve all been there. Every one of us working at the Food Pantry has been where they are.”
“There is this cultural narrative that says when you go to college, you have laundry baskets full of ramen, that you eat nothing but ramen,” said Mantheakis. “It’s thought humorous, but it’s actually a much more serious issue.”