Since the arrival of the food pantry last year, faculty as well as Student Senate have been tasked with determining how to improve its use on campus. The pantry was part of a project spearheaded by Student Senate to combat food insecurity on campus.
Professor of Environmental Studies Ben Farrer sent a survey to the student body last spring inquiring about their accessibility to food. According to the survey, 37.5 percent reported having experienced food insecurity.
Farrer plans to send out a follow-up survey during Winter Term to assess the pantry’s effectiveness in combating food insecurity. The survey will include the same questions as the first, to assess the change in food insecurity in the past year. Additionally, the survey will aim to delve deeper into the issues surrounding why students are food insecure.
As the purpose of the food pantry is to decrease food insecurity, he hopes this is reflected in the numbers while acknowledging the need to avoid reading the results with a bias.
“Hopefully the numbers have gone down, but if they’ve stayed the same or gotten worse, we’ll need to address that,” he said.
In order to maximize the pantry’s use to the student body, Farrer hopes the survey will help determine what students are using the pantry for.
“We’re definitely focused on trying to come up with a solution because we don’t want to fill the pantries with items that people don’t want or need,” Farrer said.
Among the challenges of collecting data is the stigma regarding use of a food pantry, which might make it difficult to find out students’ responses to the food pantry.
“[It’s] hard to think of a way to find out whose needs we should be focusing on without drawing attention to those who are using it,” he said.
Like Farrer, sophomore and Student Senate Dining Services Chair Nathan Errampalli hopes to reverse the stigma against using the food pantry. In addition, he hopes to encourage the use of it by faculty and staff rather than limiting its use to just students. Although no limit has been placed in the past, Errampalli believes that faculty and staff are not aware of their access to the pantry. He feels that this is a problem, based on results of last year’s food insecurity survey.
“Based on the results of the food insecurity survey that was done last year, out of the people who filled it out, 11 percent of faculty and 16 percent of staff said that they’ve experienced food insecurity at some point,” he said.
Director of Sustainability Initiatives Debbie Steinberg has played a supportive role in the creation and maintenance of the food pantry. Like Farrer, Steinberg is concerned with filling the pantry with items she feels will be most beneficial for students. Steinberg runs the food share for students who are on campus over the summer. She noted that faculty and staff often donate fresh produce, but that it tends to remain in the Sustainability Office until it is no longer edible.
“I would often find that it hadn’t been taken. So we’ve been kind of talking about ‘is that because people don’t know what to do with it?’ or because people aren’t checking as frequently,” she said.
She hopes an additional survey will give clarity to some of the ways in which students feel the food pantry can improve. She acknowledges that there are limits to the food pantry’s abilities due to limited funding, but expresses that her ideal food pantry would provide a sustainable diet for students.
“It would be interesting to have meal boxes… like here is rice, and beans and a couple apples and bananas — things that would get you through the week, like basic staples.”
For Errampalli, the focus of their current plans is getting people to donate non-perishable goods.
“The big thing right now is to get non-perishable food,” he said. “That’s just for the safety of whoever gets it, so they know it’s not spoiled.”
Steinberg also recognizes that there are other issues causing food insecurity at Knox, including limited access to grocery stores. She feels that a food pantry has limited impact.
“Even though the pantry is great, if we’re doing donation only, they can’t exist on plums and syrup.”