The Cougar Food Pantry at Washington State University Pullman is ready to take on food insecurity on campus this fall.
Backed by funding from a $5 student fee passed by Associated Students of WSU (ASWSU), the pantry has a new location on the ground floor of the CUB and a renewed commitment to ensuring all Cougs have enough to eat. The new space celebrated its grand opening today.
For alumna Nife Shola-Dare, a former ASWSU senator who proposed the fee, the new pantry is the realization of her vision for a more food-secure campus.
“When people think about food insecurity, they think it’s so far‑fetched, but it could be the student right next to you in your class,” she said. “This new funding and location will contribute to a cultural change.”
The pantry is a collaborative effort among many departments within the Division of Student Affairs and is part of Cougs Feeding Cougs, a set of programs that aim to fight food insecurity among students. It is also part of the Council on Aging and Human Services’ Whitman County food pantry network, which supports additional funds and resources for the pantry.
Student funded, student run
Shola-Dare became involved with food insecurity on campus in 2019 after discovering that the Pullman campus’s food pantries were run solely on donations and by volunteers.
“Making sure there’s a working and fully stocked food pantry on campus wasn’t part of anyone’s job, and I didn’t think that was feasible for something as important as food security,” she said. “I realized the best way to solve this issue is to have money set aside every semester to address food insecurity.”
She worked with fellow ASWSU senator Jelani Christopher to draft a proposal for a small semesterly student fee that would be used to fund a food pantry. Shola-Dare and Christopher proposed the fee directly to students in a referendum that passed in June 2020 with 70% of the vote.
“I think it passed by such a wide margin because the fee is so small and because students can see the benefit from this fee,” Christopher said. “The food pantry is something everyone can go to, regardless of who you are or how involved you are on campus.”
The new pantry is predominantly funded by that student fee and will receive much of its direction from the new Cougs Feeding Cougs Student Advisory Board, which will make decisions on regulations, hours, services, and more. All students are invited to apply to serve on the board; the application deadline is Sept. 20.
“Because we’re using student funds for the pantry, we felt like students would be better equipped to distribute those funds,” Shola-Dare said. “No one knows what a student is going through more than a student.”
The fee will also support salaries for a full-time staff member and several part-time staff members.
‘There’s nothing wrong with needing help’
The new Cougar Food Pantry is a big step forward for food security on campus, said Tiffanie Braun, associate director for CCE. The pantry is centrally located in the CUB, so it’s highly accessible, and it closely imitates a grocery store experience.
“The new space provides students the opportunity to experience the pantry in a ‘shopper model,’” she said. “They can browse products just like they would at a grocery store and take the items that best suit them and their dietary needs.”
The pantry stocks snacks, non-perishable staples, and fresh produce from CCE’s student-tended garden plot at Koppel Community Garden. Braun said the pantry plans to partner with the WSU Organic Farm and other local growers to provide fresh produce to the pantry all year.
Already, the new space has seen significant traffic; since opening in late July, the pantry has served over 450 students.
“I think the new location contributes to normalizing food insecurity and increasing awareness,” Shola-Dare said. “And it can contribute to cultural change at WSU and help make students aware that there’s nothing wrong with needing help sometimes.”
The Cougar Food Pantry is open to all Pullman students Monday–Friday from 10 a.m.–6 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m.–2 p.m.