WSU food pantries serving students amid challenges of COVID-19

A staffer at the WSU Pullman food pantry loads canned goods into a bag Wednesday, April 1, 2020. Courtesy of Shelly Hanks, WSU Photo Services

Food pantries across the WSU system are responding to the need for social distancing while continuing to provide an essential service to their communities.

To meet the needs of their student populations, pre-packaged boxes of food are being assembled on several campuses for pickup, while others are taking steps to ensure shopping can occur with minimal in-person contact.

At WSU Vancouver’s Cougar Food Pantry, organizers have recently seen twice as many students as normal utilizing the pantry.

“In the past two weeks alone, we have served around 60 students,” Mariah Chapman, food pantry coordinator, said. “Students request their orders through our online form, and these can be submitted once per week.”

Organizers at WSU Tri-Cities are broadening their community outreach. On Monday, campus staff began distributing boxes of food at the university’s extension office in Pasco. The campus food pantry will be open for pick-up and donations Monday through Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. beginning next week and will also be adding a mobile location in Kennewick in addition to two mobile locations in Pasco.

The WSU Spokane Campus Pantry, which serves WSU health science students as well as students from Eastern Washington University, has moved food acquisition outside its building in response to social distancing requirements. While students use an app on their phone to note which products they are taking, a pantry staffer bags up their requested items.

While a few students used the pantry for the first time last week, overall demand has plummeted, according to Jeanine Leach, student director of the campus pantry.

“Last week being our first week with the new system was our big experiment,” Leach said. “With plenty of food left over we told staff on campus about food from Second Harvest being available, and as we were closing up, one person took some fresh produce so they could drop it off at a local food bank near where they lived.”

WSU Everett is continuing to serve its students in need of food assistance by operating its food pantry on an appointment-only basis.

“We will work with staff members to put together a bag and then set up a time for the student to come to the building for pickup,” Holly Longman, associate director of Student Affairs, said.

At WSU Pullman, food pantries run by the Office for Access & Opportunity and the Women*s Center have been consolidated under the Office of the Dean of Students. Staff in that office are taking phone calls and requests through an online ordering form for distribution outside the Lighty Student Services Building.

A staffer at the WSU Pullman food pantry loads canned goods into a bag Wednesday, April 1, 2020. Courtesy of Shelly Hanks, WSU Photo Services

“Our prepackaged bags have protein, carbohydrates, veggies, fruit, and snacks, Lucila Loera, executive director of the Office for Access & Opportunity, said. “Students are also asked on the online form if they have special needs such as food allergies and we are working to address those needs.”

In response to the COVID-19 crises, ASWSU Global is offering a grocery reimbursement to help offset grocery bills throughout spring semester. With this program, students can be reimbursed up to $50 for eligible food items, including fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy, meat, poultry and fish, breads and cereals, canned food and other pantry items. Funds are limited and are available on a first come, first served basis. More information can be found online.

Each of WSU’s campus food pantries is accepting donations of non-perishable goods as well as hygiene products, though members of the public are asked to contact them ahead of time to ensure as seamless a process as possible.

“We’re encouraging folks to call us or to fill out the online form if students need support or if folks are able to support,” Anna Schilter of the Office of the Dean of Students said. “We’re all in this together and we’re happy to be able to serve in role we have now as our university works together to continue to serve our students during this time of change.”

To learn more about how each food pantry is adapting in response to COVID-19 check out their websites:

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